After New York’s decision to legalize marijuana earlier this week, Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said he was ready to drive federal marijuana reform.
In an interview with Politico released on Saturday, Schumer hopes President Joe Biden’s views on cannabis legislation will evolve.
The details of a reform bill are not yet clear – Schumer told Politico that “you have to wait and see” – but indicated that a “comprehensive” measure is on the table.
“We want to introduce our comprehensive calculation first and then sit down with people who are not in favor of both parties,” said Schumer. “We would certainly listen to some suggestions if that would bring more people on board. That doesn’t mean we’re going to toss things like deleting records overboard – [things that are] very important to us – just because some people don’t like it. “
Whatever the final proposal, Schumer told Politico that he was “personally in favor of legalization. And the bill that we are going to introduce goes in that direction. “
As of this month, 15 states plus Washington, DC, have legalized recreational marijuana use, and many more have either decriminalized the drug, legalized medical marijuana, or both.
According to Politico, more than 40 percent of the US population lives in the 15 states where marijuana is now legal. However, the drug is still illegal nationwide.
For his part, Biden said he supports decriminalizing the drug and leaving recreational use to the states, The Verge said.
As Vox’s German Lopez explained in 2019, there is a difference between decriminalizing marijuana and legalizing it completely.
According to Lopez, “decriminalization generally eliminates jail or jail time for limited marijuana possession, but there are a few other penalties that treat a minor marijuana offense more like a minor traffic violation.”
However, legalization is broader and is generally seen as lifting all government-enforced penalties for owning and using marijuana. In most, but not all, cases, legalization also paves the way for the legal sale and home-growing of marijuana. “
A new hope for Senate marijuana legislation
In December 2020, the Democratic House voted 228-164 in favor of passing the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, which would legalize marijuana in the United States. Vice President Kamala Harris, then a senator, sponsored the Senate version of the law but never received a vote in the then Republican-controlled chamber.
With Schumer now holding the gavel of the majority leader in the Senate, the prospects for a similar bill are much brighter. In response to a question from Politico earlier this week, Schumer suggested that there are Republican senators who “support the removal of cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act.”
In addition, he said: “The fact that every member will know when we introduce this law – not only that it has my support, but that it has the floor to vote – will help make things very strong State move forward. “
Some experts are less sure – John Hudak, the assistant director of the Center for Effective Public Management at the Brookings Institution, who also wrote a book on marijuana, told The Verge he didn’t think marijuana legalization had the votes to survive the filibuster in the Senate – but cannabis reform remains very popular with voters.
Marijuana legalization is incredibly popular in the United States
Public support for marijuana legalization has grown steadily over time, reaching an all-time high in 2020, with 68 percent of Americans supporting the policy, according to Gallup.
The specific law that the House passed last year is also hugely popular: According to Morning Consult, 66 percent of all voters said they would support the MORE law from December 2020.
And while Republicans lag behind the Independents and Democrats in supporting legalization, the bill has a majority even among GOP voters: 51 percent of Republicans said they either supported the legislation somewhat or strongly, even though only five Republican representatives voted in favor .
This widespread support, along with the success of state legalization, has helped shape his current stance on marijuana legalization, Schumer said.
“The legalization of states has worked remarkably well,” he told Politico. “You were a great success. The Terrible Parade never took place and people were given more freedom. And the people in these states seem very happy. … When a state like South Dakota votes in favor of legalization by referendum, you know something is out there. “