Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) wished marijuana advocates a “happy 420” on Thursday and pledged to “work like hell” to advance reform, announcing plans to refile his comprehensive federal legalization bill while continuing work on a package of more modest cannabis legislation.
He separately made a procedural move in the Senate on Thursday to bring a medical marijuana measure focused on military veterans to the floor next week.
Schumer was the keynote speaker at a special 4/20 event inside the Capitol Building, where he and other bipartisan lawmakers laid out their vision for marijuana reform in the 118th Congress.
“Look, Congress has a lot of work to do to catch up with the rest of the country,” the majority leader said. “Congress is behind the rest of the country on this issue.”
While a divided Congress with Republicans in control of the House means the task will be taller, he committed to refiling his federal legalization bill this session, hopefully with “even more Democratic support than what we had last year.”
Schumer also said that he was “disappointed” that the so-called SAFE Plus package of marijuana banking and expungements legislation he worked on last year didn’t advance, saying “we came close,” but “we ran into opposition in the last minute.” He said lawmakers will continue to “work in a bipartisan way” to get the job done.
“Until we reach our goal, I promise to be in your corner and work like hell bringing federal cannabis policy into the 21st century,” he said. “We will need you, as we always do, to reach out to members of both parties, in both chambers—especially Republican—so we can make progress on cannabis reform.”
Watch Schumer’s speech at the National Cannabis Policy Summit Congressional Forum in the video below:
— Minority Cannabis (@MinCannBusAssoc) April 20, 2023
While he didn’t discuss it during Thursday’s speech, Schumer has also filed cloture on a motion to proceed for the VA Medicinal Cannabis Research Act, which cleared the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee in February. A vote to take that procedural step, which sets the chamber up for floor consideration of the bipartisan legislation, is currently expected to take place on April 26.
Leader Schumer filed cloture on the following:
1. Executive Calendar #64 Joshua David Jacobs to be Under Secretary for Benefits of the Department of Veterans Affairs.
2. Motion to Proceed to S. 326, VA Medicinal Cannabis Research Act.
— Senate Periodicals (@SenatePPG) April 20, 2023
The National Cannabis Policy Summit also featured the co-chairs of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus: Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Dave Joyce (R-OH) and Brian Mast (R-FL).
During one panel, Joyce talked about his newly refiled bill, the Post-Prohibition Adult-Use Regulated Environment Act (PREPARE) Act. That legislation is meant to prepare the federal government for marijuana legalization, directing the attorney general to form a commission to study and make recommendations about regulating cannabis in a way similar to alcohol.
“This is a matter of trying to get the right people at the table and preparing,” the congressman said. “The very important part for every member is meeting them where they’re at.”
Mast said there are “lessons to be learned” from the earlier prohibition of alcohol that lawmakers should apply to marijuana.
“There’s lessons to be learned about what happens with crime,” he said. “There’s lessons to be learned about listening to the people.”
The National Cannabis Policy Forum – First session is The New Generation of Conservative Lawmakers for Cannabis Reform.
Republicans Nancy Mace and Brian Mast talked Congress dragging its feet and about veterans’ cannabis needs. pic.twitter.com/epxCC76X94
— Maurice Mcleod (he/him) (@mowords) April 20, 2023
Lee, for her part, said that as the new co-lead for marijuana banking legislation this Congress, she is “hard at work in ensuring all players in the cannabis space, both large and small businesses, have access to capital to equitably build out the cannabis marketplace.”
But she also addressed the need for comprehensive, justice-focused legalization.
“Public opinion has drastically shifted in support of cannabis legislation. Supporting cannabis reform is not only a bipartisan issue, but a winning issue,” she said. “While 38 states and four territories have now legalized medicinal or adult use cannabis, the federal cannabis prohibition has disproportionately impacted communities of color. These disparities stemmed from the failed war on drugs.”
‘While some companies are raking in millions, there are also so many barriers that often prevent individuals of color from opening their own businesses,” Lee continued. “Congress must step up and commit to a legislative agenda that will fully deschedule cannabis and end the failed war on drugs, reinvest in communities of color and ensure small and minority-owned businesses have the opportunity to join this emerging market.”
Blumenauer, who filed a bill to allow marijuana businesses to take federal tax deductions earlier this week, said at a press briefing on Wednesday that thinks it’s important that advocates and lawmakers align on any incremental proposals to end the drug war, warning against an “all-or-nothing” mentality.
Beside Schumer and the Cannabis Caucus co-chairs, Sen. John Hickenlooper (D-CO) and Rep. Nancy Mace (R-SC) also spoke at Thursday’s event. The senator served as governor of Colorado when voters made the state one of the first to legalize adult-use cannabis. Mace filed her own federal marijuana legalization bill last year.
Hickenlooper said that supporters are “really not close” to having enough support to pass full legalization through Congress.
Starting with more incremental reform “allows us to get some momentum going and to really get into more meaningful discussions,” he said.
Another panel at the event featured Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Jacky Rosen (D-NV) discussing issues facing small cannabis businesses.
While pro-legalization festivals and forums have been held outside of the Capitol in Washington, D.C. in April in recent years, this policy-centric event was one of the first of its kind to take place inside the Capitol Building, a sign of the normalization of marijuana issues as more states have enacted legalization and the pressure for federal reform continues to build.
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Several additional cannabis bills have also been filed in the week leading up to 4/20, though lawmakers didn’t explicitly say that the timing was related to the holiday.
Bipartisan House and Senate lawmakers refiled bills on Tuesday to legalize medical marijuana for military veterans, for example.
Also on Tuesday, Joyce and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) refiled the Harnessing Opportunities by Pursuing Expungement (HOPE) Act to incentivize state and local cannabis expungements with federally funded grants.
Schumer has previously used the unofficial cannabis holiday of 4/20 as an opportunity to reaffirm his commitment to ending prohibition in the past, including in speech on the Senate floor in 2021.
He also spoke about his “promise” to introduce his much-anticipated legalization bill during last year’s National Cannabis Policy Summit, held the week of 4/20. The majority leader fulfilled that promise over the summer, though the legislation did not end up advancing.
Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) was a cosponsor of that legalization bill, and he recently raised eyebrows after disclosing that he personally considers marijuana to be a “dangerous drug” that needs to be regulated and studied more. He also lamented what he views as the equity shortcomings of state-level legalization.
Meanwhile, as has become an annual tradition, 4/20 has inspired numerous brands, celebrities, organizations, politicians and government agencies to tap into cannabis culture with their own messages, campaigns and promotions.
Image element courtesy of Tim Evanson.