Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) announced on Thursday that they will be reintroducing legislation to federally deschedule marijuana and encourage minority and women participation in state-legal markets.
The bills are the latest in a series of bold reform proposals that have been filed this Congress, but Schumer’s backing is particularly emblematic of the mainstreaming of marijuana, as the top Senate Democrat has historically embraced punitive drug policies and is now—for the second year in a row—introducing legislation to remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act altogether.
“It’s about time we decriminalize marijuana,” Schumer said in an announcement video that features him and Jeffries discussing the legislation. “We’ve seen with medical use, the states are working. Some of the states have already legalized, and it’s working well there. So what we’re saying is very simple: let each state do what it wants. There’s not going to be the heavy hand of the federal government telling you you can’t.”
Besides descheduling, the House and Senate bills would also set aside funding for minority and women-owned cannabis businesses.
“Let’s not have some big, fancy corporation, some big tobacco company make all the money,” Schumer said.
You’re going to want to make sure your friends see this:
This will help level the economic playing field for women- and minority-owned businesses. pic.twitter.com/lnY8rEoJxU
— Chuck Schumer (@SenSchumer) May 9, 2019
The legislation also provides grants to help people expunge prior marijuana convictions.
You’ve had lives and communities that have been ruined in large measure by the over-criminalization. And so creating opportunity and economic space would be tremendous,” Jeffries said.
Under the legislation, known as the Marijuana Freedom and Opportunity Act, the federal government would still be empowered to prosecute cases where cannabis is being trafficked into states that have not legalized it. The bills would also put money toward cannabis research, especially as it concerns the drug’s effects on driving.
Here’s @RepJeffries and me,
On Reintroducing the Marijuana Freedom and Opportunity Act,
Which will decriminalize marijuana at the federal level. pic.twitter.com/nZECX0aTLA
— Chuck Schumer (@SenSchumer) May 9, 2019
Jeffries, the House Democratic majority’s fifth ranking member, said earlier this year that he’d be introducing descheduling legislation, saying in an interview that it “shouldn’t actually be that controversial, and it’s consistent with Republican principles of states’ rights and federalism.”
Partnered with @SenSchumer to introduce Marijuana Freedom and Opportunity Act.
Our bill will decriminalize marijuana at the federal level.
— Hakeem Jeffries (@RepJeffries) May 9, 2019
He previously called for cannabis decriminalization, arguing that it was the next natural step after Congress passed bipartisan sentencing reform legislation called the First Step Act.
Descheduling marijuana would represent a fundamental shift in U.S. drug policy, and it’s being introduced as lawmakers work to get more modest proposals advanced through committees, essentially following a “blueprint” to ending federal cannabis prohibition that was proposed by Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR).
Our marijuana laws are outdated, out of touch and discriminatory. Very excited to see @SenSchumer and @RepJeffries introduce the Marijuana Freedom and Opportunity Act because comprehensive cannabis reform must include racial, social and economic justice. Let's get this done!
— Earl Blumenauer (@repblumenauer) May 9, 2019
“Legislative relief must come sooner rather than later. Over 650,000 Americans, disproportionately black, brown, young, and poor, are arrested for violating marijuana laws annually. Those without the means to defend themselves from the state bear the greatest burden and lifelong consequences of this ongoing failed federal policy,” Justin Strekal, political director for NORML, said. “The importance of this bill’s emphasis on facilitating the expunging of individual criminal records for marijuana possession cannot be overstated. Millions of Americans have suffered from the lifelong collateral consequences of criminal prohibition, making it harder for them to find a job, obtain housing, and access higher education.”
“We’re concerned about freedom. We’re concerned about justice,” Schumer said. “We’re also concerned about safety. And the bill takes good measures in that regard, too.”
One of the bills, the SAFE Banking Act, would protect financial institutions that service marijuana businesses from being penalized by federal financial regulators. It cleared the House Financial Services Committee in March.
Photo courtesy of Brian Shamblen.
New York Legal Marijuana Push ‘Effectively Over’ For 2020, Governor Says
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) conceded on Saturday that it’s unlikely marijuana will be legalized in the state this year.
“Marijuana and the gig economy were two of the more complicated initiatives that we wanted to work through that we didn’t get a chance to do,” he said in response to a question about which policy issues he would’ve liked to tackle in the annual budget bill that passed this week.
“Is the session effectively over? It’s up to the legislature, but I think it’s fair to say it’s effectively over,” he added, noting that several state lawmakers have been infected with coronavirus.
(Marijuana Moment’s editor provides some content to Forbes via a temporary exclusive publishing license arrangement.)
Congresswoman Wants Ban On DC Marijuana Sales Lifted Through Coronavirus Legislation
A congresswoman is calling on the government to end a policy prohibiting Washington, D.C. from legal marijuana sales, arguing that the jurisdiction is in particular need of tax revenue from cannabis commerce due to the coronavirus outbreak.
Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) has repeatedly condemned the congressional rider barring the District of Columbia from allowing retail sales that has been extended each year since 2014, shortly after local voters approved a ballot measure to legalize low-level possession and home cultivation. But given the need for resources to combat the pandemic, she said a reversal of the provision should be included in the next COVID-related relief bill.
“At this moment of unparalleled need, D.C. should be able to collect tax revenue from all available sources, like every other jurisdiction, including from recreational marijuana, which is believed to be widely used in the District,” the congresswoman said in a press release on Friday, adding that D.C. was shorted in the last stimulus because Congress treated it as a territory rather than a state.
“While I am working for a retroactive fix in the next coronavirus bill, it is imperative that Congress also repeal the D.C. recreational marijuana commercialization rider in the next bill to help D.C. shore up its finances,” she said. “It is beyond unreasonable that congressional interference keeps only the District from commercializing recreational marijuana, while all other jurisdictions are free to do so.”
— Eleanor Holmes Norton (@EleanorNorton) April 3, 2020
“Bringing the District in line with other jurisdictions would create a critical source of tax revenue in our time of need.”
Last year, the House approved an appropriations bill that excluded the D.C. rider, but it was included in the Senate version and ultimately made its way into the final package that the president signed. The cannabis commerce ban was also included in President Trump’s budget proposal earlier this year.
“True to form, Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton continues to be one of the best allies to the cannabis reform movement,” Justin Strekal, political director for NORML, told Marijuana Moment. “During this unprecedented COVID-19 outbreak, it is critical that lawmakers analyze and reform any and every aspect of public policy to mitigate the health crisis and build a foundation for a strong recovery.”
“As the majority of states that regulate cannabis have deemed the industry essential to the continued functioning of their jurisdictions, the continued congressional prohibition of the District of Columbia enacting it’s own adult-use program becomes even more ridiculous,” he added.
Norton, in an interview about her push, said that the congressionally mandated prohibition on sales doesn’t prevent people from accessing cannabis but does block the city from collecting tax revenue.
“You can buy two ounces but, by the way you’ve got to do that on the black market,” she told WUSA-TV. “But there’s nobody to tax it. And I’m simply trying to get the taxes the District is due for merchandise, in this case marijuana that’s being consumed readily in the District of Columbia.”
🟢🟢 LEGALIZING COMMERCIAL MARIJUANA IN D.C. 🟢🟢
I spoke to D.C.'s Delegate @EleanorNorton
She's pushing for fully legal commercial marijuana sales in the District in a 4th Congressional stimulus package.
The District needs the money.
And people are smoking weed anyway. pic.twitter.com/PL9yoDKlrj
— Adam Longo (@adamlongoTV) April 3, 2020
Legislative priorities for Congress have shifted significantly as lawmakers attempt to address the outbreak, and that’s meant putting some reform efforts on hold. However, the issue isn’t being ignored entirely, and it’s possible that other members may look to attach modest marijuana proposals to additional coronavirus legislation.
For example, Rep. Katherine Clark (D-MA) said this week that U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs policy preventing its doctors from recommending medical cannabis in legal states puts service members at risk in Massachusetts because the state is shuttering recreational shops (but not medical dispensaries) and some veterans fear registering as patients out of concern that they could lose federal benefits.
Eleven senators wrote a letter to Appropriations Committee leadership asking that they allow small cannabis businesses to access federal loans and disaster relief programs. While the lawmakers said it should be enacted through an annual spending bill, advocates have argued that the policy change should be pursued through coronavirus legislation since these businesses are facing challenges just like those experienced by many other companies during the pandemic.
Photo courtesy of WeedPornDaily.
North Dakota Activists Say Marijuana Legalization Initiative Unlikely In 2020 Due To Coronavirus
North Dakota activists announced on Thursday that they are suspending their campaign put marijuana legalization on the November ballot due to the coronavirus outbreak.
In a Facebook post, Legalize ND said “we are going to have to face a few hard realities going forward” as businesses are shuttering, public events are being cancelled and individuals are encouraged to shelter in place. The pandemic means in-person signature gathering can’t take place, and the state does not allow for alternative signing options such as by mail or online.
“Due to the virus all of our major avenues for signature collection have been cancelled or indefinitely postponed, and going door to door is not safe for both those knocking and those getting knocked,” the group said. “Businesses will continue to collect, but we don’t want to create another vector for the coronavirus. As a result, at this time if something major doesn’t change we will not be able to make the 2020 ballot.”
Legalize ND said there’s no way for state policies related to signature gathering to be changed ahead of the November election. They needed to collect 13,452 valid signatures from voters before July 6 in order to qualify. In all likelihood, the campaign said it would have to shift its focus to the July 2022 primary election.
“This isn’t the solution we want, but given the situation it is what will have to happen,” the post states. “Stay safe, and hopefully we can make a major push when the quarantine ends.”
The proposed initiative would allow individuals to purchase and possess up to two ounces of cannabis. Unlike a much more far-reaching measure the same group pushed in 2018 that included no possession or cultivation limits, which voters rejected, this version would prohibit home growing, impose a 10 percent excise tax and establish a regulatory body to approve licenses for marijuana businesses.
North Dakota voters approved a medical cannabis initiative in 2016.
The coronavirus outbreak has dealt several blows to drug policy reform efforts in recent weeks.
Likewise in Washington, D.C., advocates for a measure to decriminalize psychedelics asked the mayor and local lawmakers to accept online signatures for their ballot petition.
In Oregon, advocates for a measure to decriminalize drug possession and a separate initiative to legalize psilocybin for therapeutic purposes have suspended in-person campaign events amid the pandemic.
In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) recently conceded that legalization was “not likely” going to happen through the budget, as he hoped. Coronavirus shifted legislative priorities, and comprehensive cannabis reform seems to have proved too complicated an issue in the short-term.
Idaho activists announced on Thursday that they are suspending their campaign, though they are still “focusing on distributing petitions through online download at IdahoCann.co and encouraging every volunteer who has downloaded a petition to get them turned in to their county clerk’s office by mail, regardless of how many signatures they have collected.”
Finally, in Arizona, a legalization campaign is petitioning the state Supreme Court to instruct the secretary of state to allow individuals to sign ballot petitions digitally using an existing electronic system that is reserved for individual individual candidates seeking public office.
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.