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Schumer Plans To File Marijuana Legalization Bill In April As Top House Lawmaker Details His Own Reform Plan

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Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) announced at a press conference on Friday that he is aiming to formally file his much-anticipated bill to federally legalize marijuana in April. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), who also spoke, discussed progress on his separate legalization bill.

Both top lawmakers detailed their efforts to end prohibition at an event in New York City, which also involved House Small Business Committee Chairwoman Nydia Velazquez (D-NY), New York lawmakers and advocates with the Drug Policy Alliance and other organizations.

Friday proved to be an especially eventful day for federal cannabis policy, as the House earlier passed a large-scale bill that contains the bipartisan Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act. It’s the sixth time that reform has cleared the chamber in some form.

“In the coming weeks, we’re ramping up our outreach—and we expect to introduce final legislation. Our goal is to do it in April,” Schumer said at the New York event. “Then we begin the nationwide push, spearheaded by New York, to get the federal law done. As majority leader, I can set priorities. This is a priority for me.”

Advocates were encouraged when Schumer first disclosed details about his Cannabis Administration & Opportunity Act (CAOA), which he unveiled in draft form for public comment in July, but they’ve grown impatient with his repeated comments in the months since that a formal introduction was coming “soon.” Now he’s set a target timeline, and the leader also separately said in a meeting with activists that he expects committee hearings on the proposal shortly after it’s finally filed.

“Right now, we’re taking those comments [on the draft version] and reaching out to Democratic and Republican senators,” Schumer said, adding that “we have some Republican support.” It’s not clear if he’s indicating that there will be GOP cosponsors on the bill itself or if he’s referencing general support from voters and some lawmakers across party lines for ending prohibition.

“If any senators have other ideas that they want to add to the bill, as long as it keeps social and economic justice as the spearhead, we’re happy and willing to listen,” he said.

Even if committee hearings start quickly following an April introduction, it seems highly unlikely that it will pass and make it to the president’s desk by the unofficial cannabis holiday 4/20, as Schumer said he wanted to see happen in a Senate floor speech delivered last April 20.

Schumer, Nadler, several New York lawmakers also made the case at Friday’s event that while New York’s legalization law, which is actively being implemented, should serve as a model for the country, comprehensive equity will only be achievable once federal prohibition is lifted.

“We want to renew the case for comprehensive marijuana reform that repairs the harm of the war on drugs at the federal level, using the great work that has been done here in New York as an example and way to lead,” Schumer said, adding that “just because we have a state law, the federal law still creates problems, and that’s why one of the many reasons we need to change it.”

The majority leader’s office has been involved in negotiations with advocates and stakeholders, both on his legalization measure as well as the SAFE Banking Act, which he was blamed for blocking as part of a separate defense bill late last year.

The leader and colleagues have insisted on passing comprehensive legalization first before banking—but the sponsor of the banking bill, Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO), told Marijuana Moment on Friday that, after initiating conversations with the leader’s office, there may be a path forward to advance his legislation through both chambers with equity-focused amendments that Schumer wants to see.

With respect to Schumer’s legalization bill, the Senate leader emphasized late last year that he wants to keep the “big boys” out of the marijuana industry in favor of creating opportunities for smaller operators when cannabis is federally legalized, and he said that his upcoming bill would accomplish that.

“We don’t want the big boys to come in,” he said at the time. “After all the pain that’s been occurring in communities like the one you represent in Brooklyn, where I’m from—to have the big boys come in and make all the money makes no sense.”

He’s made similar remarks in the past, stressing that his reform bill will take specific steps to restrict the ability of large alcohol and tobacco companies to overtake the industry.

Nadler, meanwhile, discussed on Friday his Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, which would also end federal prohibition and promote social equity in the industry like CAOA. That bill passed the House in a historic first last session, and it cleared Nadler’s Judiciary Committee again in September.

“The war on drugs—and particularly the criminalization of marijuana—has been a failure that has unleashed untold suffering on millions of Americans, especially within minority communities,” Nadler said. “I am proud to stand here with Senator Schumer, and with the many other legislators and advocates with us today, who are leading the way in reforming our laws and bringing justice to those who have been harmed by these unfair and destructive policies.”

Also at the event, Velazquez talked about the importance of ending prohibition, as well as opening up Small Business Administration (SBA) resources for marijuana businesses.

“Change will not happen, change will not come, unless we demand it,” the congresswoman said. “And because we have been demanding it, public opinion has changed dramatically. So it is time for government to act, particularly the federal government.”

Dan Goldman contributed reporting from New York.

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Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.

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