Schumer Teases New Federal Cannabis Reform Bill, Hinting At Legalization

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These days it feels like weed keeps hitting the jackpot.

Fresh on the heels of New York legalizing recreational cannabis, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) announced on Saturday that he was working on new federal cannabis reform legislation.

Building on the momentum in his home state, Schumer said he would “soon” introduce a bill to loosen federal restrictions on cannabis with Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Cory Booker (D-NJ).

Details of the bill have yet to emerge, but Schumer hinted that his goal is to fully legalize cannabis at the federal level. “I am personally for legalization,” he told Politico. “And the bill that we’ll be introducing is headed in that direction.” 

While that’s pretty vague, it’s expected that the bill would at least deschedule cannabis by removing it from the Controlled Substances Act, which puts it in the same category as drugs like heroin and LSD. 

As for a timeline, Schumer could try to introduce the bill around April 20, as he has done with previous legislation for the annual celebration of cannabis culture known as 4/20.

Though he insists he’s never consumed it, Schumer has long been one of the highest-profile advocates for cannabis on Capitol Hill. In 2018, he introduced a bill to decriminalize the substance, though the measure never made it to a vote. 

But with Democrats now in control of Congress and the White House, Schumer’s latest bill could have legs. As majority leader, Schumer sets the Senate’s daily legislative agenda, meaning he could prioritize the bill for a vote.

If it clears the Senate, the bill should have favorable odds in the House, where Democrats recently passed a landmark bill to legalize cannabis and expunge weed-related criminal records.

Meanwhile, it’s unclear whether President Joe Biden would veto a bill to legalize cannabis if it made it to his desk. Though Biden has expressed support for some cannabis reforms, he has shied away from fully backing recreational-use.

Last week, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters that Biden’s position on legalizing cannabis “has not changed.” The White House recently stirred controversy by terminating five staffers for cannabis use. Biden has a long history of supporting tough-on-crime bills that cracked down on drugs like the notorious 1994 crime bill. 

Schumer says the Senate won’t wait for Biden to move on cannabis reform, though he wants to hear the president out. “We’re going to move forward, period,” he told Politico.

Working in his favor is the fact that Americans support cannabis legalization across the political spectrum. In a 2019 survey by the Pew Research Center, two-thirds of respondents said cannabis should be legal, a number that has steadily grown for the last few decades.

A total of 26 states have passed laws decriminalizing cannabis possession in some form, according to the National Council of State Legislatures. On April 1, New Mexico became the 16th state to legalize recreational use, just hours after New York passed a similar law.

Still, legalization is all but certain to face resistance from Senate Republicans. While Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has enthusiastically backed the cultivation of hemp, leading a successful effort to federally legalize the plant in 2018, he has consistently opposed cannabis reform.

“I do not have any plans to endorse legalization of marijuana,” McConnell told reporters in 2018. Cannabis and hemp are “two entirely separate plants,” he added. 

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