Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) says lawmakers are in the process of merging various marijuana bills, including his own legalization legislation, as the chamber works to enact reform this session.
In an interview on Wednesday night with former NBA player Al Harrington, who owns the cannabis company Viola Brands, Schumer talked about his support for ending federal cannabis prohibition, what he hopes reform to accomplish and the political state of play for marijuana in the early days of the 117th Congress.
Notably, he said “our bill—the bill that I put in—now we’re putting it together with some other bills.”
Watch Schumer talk about marijuana reform efforts below:
The legislation that the now-majority leader filed last Congress and the one before that, the Marijuana Freedom and Opportunity Act, would federally deschedule marijuana, reinvest tax revenue into communities most impacted by the drug war and fund efforts to expunge prior cannabis records.
It’s not clear which other bills are being merged, but it stands to reason that the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act would be incorporated, given that advocates have strongly pushed for that proposal to be the vehicle for reform. It passed the House last year but did not advance in the Senate under Republican control.
In any case, Schumer emphasized that the goal of legalizing marijuana is largely equity-focused.
The Democratic majority’s plan will include expunging marijuana records, using some tax revenue from cannabis sales to reinvest in communities most impacted by the war on drugs and ensuring that large corporations don’t monopolize the market, the senator said.
I just sat down with Al Harrington @cheddahcheese7 to talk about working together to end the federal prohibition on marijuana and advance criminal justice reform.
— Chuck Schumer (@SenSchumer) January 28, 2021
Further, Schumer and Harrington said they both want to make it so the Food and Drug Administration doesn’t impose excess regulations on existing cannabis businesses when legalization is implemented.
The majority leader did say that he wants to allocate funds to develop a cannabis breathalyzer to detect impaired driving, saying that “just like you shouldn’t drive under the influence alcohol, you probably shouldn’t drive under the influence of too much marijuana.”
“I believe in freedom. Let people do what they want. And it became pretty apparent years ago that all these horror stories, you know, ‘legalize marijuana and crime will go up’—well, states legalized, crime didn’t go up,” he said. “‘If you legalize marijuana, everyone will become a big druggie.’ That didn’t happen either.”
Schumer also called out the “havoc created in the minority community and the unfairness” caused by enforcement of cannabis criminalization.
“A young man caught with a little marijuana in his pocket, gets arrested, has a criminal record the rest of his life—can’t get a good start, can’t get things done,” he added. “I decided we should decriminalize it. The time has come.”
Schumer made similar comments in an interview with MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow on Monday.
Prior to the election, which saw Democrats reclaim the Senate majority and Schumer reinstalled as the top leader, he pledged that if he ascended to the chamber’s top position he would put his cannabis legislation on the floor.
“I’m a big fighter for racial justice, and the marijuana laws have been one of the biggest examples of racial injustice, and so to change them makes sense,” he said at the time. “And that fits in with all of the movement now to bring equality in the policing, in economics and in everything else. Our bill is, in a certain sense, at the nexus of racial justice, individual freedom and states’ rights.”
The senator has become a strong ally for comprehensive cannabis reform. In 2019, for example, he sided with reform advocates who argued that passing a bill to protect banks that service the marijuana industry was not enough.
Now with Democrats in control, advocates and lawmakers are preparing for a deluge in marijuana reform proposals that could see floor action and make their way to President Biden’s desk.
Although the president does not support full legalization and only backs relatively modest cannabis reforms, advocates are hopeful that he would not veto or seek to undermine any broad marijuana legislation that congressional leaders decide to prioritize.
Already in 2021, two congressional marijuana bills have been filed: one to move cannabis from Schedule I to Schedule III of the Controlled Substances Act and another to prevent the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs from denying veterans benefits solely because they use medical marijuana in compliance with state law.
Photo courtesy of Senate Democrats.