Chuck Schumer Blazing a Path to Federal Marijuana Legalization
The federal legalization of marijuana is a top priority for the United States Senate, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) told Politico this week.
On Wednesday, New York became the 14th state to legalize pot for personal recreational use.
“I am personally for legalization,” Schumer confidently declared. “And the bill that we’ll be introducing is headed in that direction.”
Marijuana has been classified as a Schedule I narcotic on the Drug Enforcement Agency’s extensive list of controlled substances since the 1970s. That designation has resulted in ghastly consequences, particularly for communities of color, thanks to the war on drugs started and expanded by Presidents Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan.
But growing public opposition to punishing people for possessing and using drugs has become impossible for elected officials to ignore.
Schumer, who has emerged as an outspoken proponent of legal weed over the last few years, “is putting together new federal marijuana reform legislation with Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Ron Wyden (D-OR),” Politico pointed out on Saturday,” adding that “more than 40 percent of Americans now live in states that have embraced full legalization.”
Even though Democrats have slim majorities in both chambers of Congress, support for legalization is not universal within the party.
President Joe Biden’s public position is that he is opposed to ending the decades-long federal prohibition on marijuana, although he has signaled that he is keeping an open mind.
“I want to make my arguments to him, as many other advocates will,” Schumer said. “But at some point we’re going to move forward, period.“
Schumer explained that state-level legalization has “worked out remarkably well. They were a great success,” he said. “The parade of horribles never came about, and people got more freedom. And people in those states seem very happy.”
Schumer, himself a former opponent of legalization, explained that he “just started talking to people, not just elected officials, but just average folks,” at which point he changed his mind.
“[They said] it benefited the state, and [didn’t] hurt the state,” said Schumer. “There were tax revenues, but people had freedom to do what they wanted to do, as long as they weren’t hurting other people. That’s part of what America is about. And they were exultant in it.”
Schumer expressed confidence that Biden will come around too.
“Well, he said he’d like to see more information on the issue,” Schumer said of the president. “I respect that. I certainly will have an ongoing conversation with him, and tell him how my views evolved. And hope that his will to.”
Schumer also said that the federal government should incentivize states to expunge marijuana-related criminal convictions.
“While we can’t require it” at the federal level, Schumer said, “we can get all kinds of different incentives — incentives and disincentives” for individual states to give low-level offenders a fresh start.