A leading voice for marijuana legalization in the Senate has been appointed to lead a key subcommittee with jurisdiction over drug policy issues—and he immediately signaled that cannabis reform would be part of his agenda.
Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) will chair the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Criminal Justice and Counterterrorism. A press release on the appointment prominently touts two marijuana bills the senator has sponsored.
The Marijuana Justice Act to federally deschedule cannabis and promote social justice is the very first piece of legislation cited in the release after it notes the senator’s work to make “championing reforms of America’s broken criminal justice system a top priority.” Also mentioned is his separate CARERS Act, which would protect state medical marijuana programs.
Booker, who along with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Senate Finance Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) is moving to advance legalization legislation this session, said that the nation’s “broken criminal justice system is a stain on the soul of our country, the result of decades of failed policies that have broken apart families and communities and have not made us safer.”
“The burden of this broken system has been disproportionately and dramatically borne by Black and brown Americans, and the poor. It’s past time for change,” he said. “Congress has made progress in starting to turn the tide in recent years, and now is a time of great promise.”
The releases note that the panel Booker will run has oversight jurisdiction over a number of agencies that deal with marijuana policy and enforcement. That includes the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Office of National Drug Control Policy and the Justice Department’s Criminal Division.
The senator’s communications director also noted his boss’s marijuana work in a Twitter thread about the new chairmanship.
Too many reform proposals to list here, but recent efforts have included the Marijuana Justice Act, the Next Step Act, and the Justice in Policing Act, introduced last summer. 3/
— Jeff Giertz (@jeffgiertz) February 14, 2021
The appointment announcement comes as Booker, Schumer and Wyden work on draft legislation to end federal marijuana prohibition. So far, that’s involved a meeting with representatives from a coalition of cannabis advocacy groups to solicit feedback on what the proposal should include.
But if a bill like the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act is reintroduced, it’s expected to be referred to Wyden’s Finance Committee first. That bill cleared the House last year, but advocates and lawmakers are working to improve upon it this session.
Advocates took particular issues will a provision of the House-approved version that excludes people with prior cannabis convictions from getting a required federal permit to operate marijuana businesses.
While it’s not clear what the draft Senate marijuana reform proposal will entail, or when it will be released, Schumer said lawmakers are in the process of merging various pieces of legislation, which could include his own cannabis descheduling bill that he filed in the last two Congresses. The separate MORE Act could also serve as the basis of reform in the 117th Congress.
Wyden, for his part, said in a recent interview that his goal will be to “end the prohibition and come up with sensible tax and regulatory oversight at the federal level.”
Although President Joe Biden 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.