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Key Senate Chairman Previews Plan To Advance Federal Marijuana Legalization This Session

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The chairman of a key Senate committee—who recently joined with other Democratic leaders to lay out a process for shaping a federal marijuana legalization bill—tackling a number of issues such as cannabis tax policy and regulations.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), who assumed the top spot on the Senate Finance Committee under the chamber’s new Democratic majority, said his goal will be to “end the prohibition and come up with sensible tax and regulatory oversight at the federal level.”

“This is a framework that I’ve championed, and I’ll be championing it as chairman,” he told The Source Weekly’s podcast Bend Don’t Break. “You do that and you take care of the banking question, you take care of the tax question, you take care of the research issue and this whole array of issues that have been gridlocked because the federal government on cannabis has been tethered to yesteryear. That has been the central problem.”

Watch the senator talk about marijuana reform plans below: 

“We really are the lead committee” on the cannabis issue, Wyden said.

The senator’s comments, published on Saturday, came just days before he, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) formally announced plans to introduce draft marijuana legislation early this year as Congress moves to legalize.

While Wyden didn’t point to any specific bills in the podcast interview, there are numerous pieces of legislation that could fall within his committee’s jurisdiction. That includes comprehensive proposals to federally legalize cannabis that would involve imposing excise taxes on marijuana sales, for example. The Senate version of a House-passed bill to deschedule marijuana and fund programs to repair the harms of the drug war was referred to Finance last session but died without a hearing or a vote under Republican leadership.

The new chairman said that “it’s not enough in my view to just end cannabis prohibition, I think we need to restore the lives of people who’ve been hurt most by the failed war on drugs and especially black Americans.”

To accomplish that, he said reform legislation should include provisions to provide expungements for those with prior cannabis convictions, community reinvestment programs, job training and reentry services and “access to capital.”

“I’m strategizing now on the next steps,” he said. “We need comprehensive reform, and you need legislation to do it.”

“Certainly the fact that millions of Americans have voted for at least some of what I just described means that we’re in a position to move at the federal level,” he added. “I do think that this kind of crazy quilt—particularly as it relates to regulation and the financial aspects, particularly nationwide consideration—you really need some kind of bedrock federal rules on, one, ending the prohibition; two, sensible tax policies; and three, sensible regulatory oversight.”

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said last month that legislators are in the process of merging various marijuana bills as Congress moves to pass legalization this session.

“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,” the top Senate Democrat said. “‘If you legalize marijuana, everyone will become a big druggie.’ That didn’t happen either.”

“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 said. “I decided we should decriminalize it. The time has come.”

Schumer also made similar comments in an interview with MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow last week.

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.

With Democrats in control of both chambers of Congress, advocates and lawmakers are preparing for a deluge in marijuana reform proposals that could see floor action and make their way to President Joe 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.

Democratic Senate Leaders Announce Steps To Federally Legalize Marijuana In 2021

Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.

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