Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said on Wednesday that a bill to federally legalize marijuana will be introduced imminently in the Senate.
He made the comments on the same day that the governor of his home state signed a bill to legalize adult-use cannabis in New York, making possession of up to three ounces of marijuana by adults 21 and older immediately lawful.
“I support decriminalization at the federal level,” Schumer said, “and we’ll be introducing legislation with a few of my colleagues shortly.”
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer on decriminalizing marijuana: "I support decriminalization at the federal level, and we'll be introducing legislation with a few of my colleagues shortly." pic.twitter.com/fkc9HE2wQB
— ABC News Politics (@ABCPolitics) March 31, 2021
Asked to clarify whether he supports legalization, Schumer replied, “decriminalization, legalization,” implying that the two terms are used interchangeably.
“At the federal level, you call it ‘decriminalization’ because that lets the states legalize,” he said. But in general, advocates draw a distinction between the terms, with decriminalization usually being used to describe state or local policies that simply remove the threat of incarceration for simple possession while fines or other penalties could still be levied, which is distinct from outright legalization.
“The Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act legalizing marijuana is now law in New York,” Schumer tweeted separately on Wednesday. “And I will keep working in the Senate to end the federal prohibition on marijuana and undo the damage of the War on Drugs.”
The Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act legalizing marijuana is now law in New York.
And I will keep working in the Senate to end the federal prohibition on marijuana and undo the damage of the War on Drugs.
— Chuck Schumer (@SenSchumer) March 31, 2021
The majority leader has teamed up this session with Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) to craft legislation to end federal cannabis prohibition. They started by holding a meeting with representatives from a variety of advocacy groups to gain feedback on the best approach to the reform.
While the text of the bill hasn’t been filed yet and few details have been discussed, it’s expected to remove marijuana from the list of federally controlled substances and promote social equity.
Schumer made a point earlier this month to say that it will specifically seek to restrict the ability of large alcohol and tobacco companies to overtake the industry.
Instead, it will prioritize small businesses, particularly those owned by people from communities most impacted by prohibition, and focus on “justice, justice, justice—as well as freedom,” he said.
He also urged voters to reach out to their congressional representatives and tell them that “this is long overdue.”
Schumer, who also included cannabis legalization as a legislative priority in a recent fundraising email to his list of supporters, said that the American people recognize that prohibition has failed and “so many lives have been wasted because marijuana has been listed as something as bad as heroin” under federal law.
On the House side, Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) said recently that he plans to reintroduced his legalization bill, the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, which cleared the chamber last year but did not advance in the Senate under GOP control.
Now that Democrats have the majority in both chambers, as well as the White House, there’s a sense of optimism among advocates that comprehensive reform is achievable in this Congress.
But with respect to the White House, Press Secretary Jen Psaki said on Tuesday that President Joe Biden’s position on adult-use legalization “has not changed,” meaning he still opposes the policy. He hasn’t said whether he would sign or veto a bill to enact the policy change if it arrived on his desk, however.
The president instead backs modestly rescheduling the plant, decriminalizing possession, legalizing medical cannabis, expunging prior marijuana records and letting states set their own policies.