Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D – New York) said that he will be introducing a bill removing marijuana from the federal list of controlled substances, which would, in effect, decriminalize its possession and use. Schumer gave an exclusive interview to VICE News Tonight, which aired on HBO on Thursday, April 19, 2018, in which he confirmed that he is adding his name to legislation that would decriminalize marijuana at the federal level, which is a shift for Schumer.
“My thinking, as well as the general population’s views, on the issue has evolved,” Schumer said.
Schumer has previously supported the rights of states to legalize sales of cannabis, and has also encouraged medical marijuana. He said that he supports legalization of cannabis in his home state of New York, and that he supports legalization in any state that wishes to do so. “My personal view is legalization is just fine. The best thing to do is let each state decide on its own.” However, this announcement is a legislative leap from supporting states’ rights to bringing the fight for legalization and decriminalization to the steps of the Capital – this proposed legislation represents a “seismic shift in federal drug policy.”
Echoing the sentiments of other politicians who have also changed their minds on the legal status of cannabis or who have supported it publicly for some time, Schumer said, “Ultimately, it’s the right thing to do. Freedom. If smoking marijuana doesn’t hurt anybody else, why shouldn’t we allow people to do it and not make it criminal?” He also said, “I’m doing it because it’s the right thing to do. I’ve seen too many people’s lives ruined by the criminalization. If we benefit, so be it. But that’s not my motivation.” (When he was talking about benefiting, he meant the Democrats in the upcoming midterm and 2020 elections.)
Schumer indicated that the coming legislation should be released soon – hopefully in the next week. He indicated to VICE News that the bill would have six main points. Those point include removing marijuana from the Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) list of controlled substances – this would allow the states to decide how to regulate cannabis. Schumer did not say “legalization” but in effect, the de-scheduling of cannabis would essentially make cannabis legal. The bill would create funding for minority and women-owned cannabis business, push money into research on cannabis, including its effect on driving. It would also “maintain federal authority to regulate marijuana advertising the same way it does alcohol and tobacco,” which would boost efforts to ensure that children are not being targeted with any cannabis-based marketing. The bill would also still allow the federal government to enforce laws against moving cannabis into states where it’s not legal.
As to the idea that this is a smart move politically, Guy Cecil, chairman of Priorities USA, a Democratic Super PAC, told ABC News that the decriminalization and legalization of cannabis is a “clear motivator for younger voters.” “It has a huge turnout effect on young people. I think you’ll see most, if not all of the presidential candidates in the next election will be in favor of it, some version of it,” Cecil said.
It doesn’t appear that the legislation is timed to sway young voters, and rather, seems as though it comes as the tide of public opinion is changing regarding the legal status of cannabis throughout the United States. According to a recent Gallup poll, 64% of Americans support legalization, the highest number since the question was first asked in 1969.
Schumer is not the only member of Congress seeking to push legislation that would affect that legal status of cannabis. Senator Cory Booker (Democrat – New Jersey) has introduced the Marijuana Justice Act, which would legalize cannabis on the federal level. Senator Bernie Sanders (Democrat – Vermont) has been in favor of removing marijuana from the federal list of controlled substances under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA).
Senator Cory Gardner (Republican – Colorado) has been open about supporting the will of his constituents in his state in regards to protecting the legalization of recreational cannabis and medical marijuana in his state. Gardner also indicated that he had a conversation with President Trump in which Trump told Gardner that he was supportive of the states that have legalized cannabis. In addition, former Speaker of the House John Boehner (Republican – Ohio) recently announced that he has changed his mind about cannabis, announcing that he has joined the advisory board of a cannabis company.
Last year, Representative Thomas Garrett (Republican – Virginia) filed a bill that would have taken cannabis off of the CSA, but that bill did not fair well. Representative Jared Polis (Democrat – Colorado) also filed legislation that would have regulated cannabis like alcohol, but that bill also did not gain much traction. The House currently has what is referred to as the “Cannabis Caucus,” which was started by four lawmakers in 2017 to assist with preserving state laws that provide for medical marijuana or recreational cannabis. Perhaps the most notable among those members, Representative Earl Blumenauer (Democrat – Oregon) gave his own “Cannabis State of the Union” on April 20, 2018, saying that several states have ballot measures that are “poised for success,” including Michigan, Missouri, and maybe even Utah. Blumenauer also indicated that medical marijuana advocates are hard at work in Texas, and are optimistic for the 2019 legislative session.
“The wind of public opinion is at our back,” said Blumenauer.
We will be eager to see whether or not the proposed legislation gains traction in Congress, but we are pleased that so many politicians appear to be supportive of their constituents’ wishes that cannabis be, if not legalized outright, at the very least, decriminalized on the federal level.