Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has announced that lawmakers are in the throes of merging several different cannabis bills in a step towards federal reform.
The legislation will seek to deschedule cannabis, as well as pump much-needed revenue into expungement efforts and the communities ravaged by the drug war.
Two cannabis bills have already been filed this year. One re-schedules cannabis in the Controlled Substances Act and the other protects medical cannabis-using veterans’ benefits.
President Biden currently does not support full cannabis legalization, but it is hoped that he will not stand in the way of any future cannabis reform legislation.
Mergers of a number of different cannabis bills are underway, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer confirmed on Thursday. It paves the way for potential legalization as lawmakers busily work to enact cannabis reform at federal level.
Schumer is making good his promise of significant cannabis reform made ahead of the November 3rd election last year, the results of which saw the Democrats take majority control of the Senate.
In December last year, the Marijuana Opportunity, Reform and Expungement (MORE) Act passed in the House of Representatives but didn’t make it past the former Republican-controlled Senate, but now that Senate control is back in Democratic hands, changes are afoot.
Downgrading Cannabis from Schedule I
The legislation aims to deschedule cannabis entirely from the Controlled Substances Act 1970. As it stands, cannabis is a Schedule I substance, which places it on-par with heroin but more dangerous than cocaine.
The bill will additionally mean tax revenue from cannabis sales will fund expungement cases and provide much-needed capital for communities impacted by the drug war.
Schumer yesterday talked with former NBA player, Al Harrington—now CEO of Viola—which seeks to empower minority cannabis ownership through investment, amongst other opportunities for people of color in the industry.
In the interview, Schumer advocated for a “marijuana breathalyzer” for drivers suspected of dangerous driving while under the influence and also for letting people “do what they want”, referring back to unmaterialized initial fears of cannabis liberalization resulting in “everyone becoming a druggie”.
He also made reference to the “havoc” caused in minority communities due to how police deal with enforcement of the law, which he branded “unfair”.
This is very true. Drug crime rates among minorities are high. Black people are over three-times more likely to be arrested for cannabis possession than any other race group in some states. In other states, this statistic increases quite dramatically. Cannabis legalization typically causes a decrease in arrests among minority groups.
Full Legalization and Potential Hurdles
This legislation follows two others filed earlier this year. The first seeks for cannabis to be moved from a Schedule I to a Schedule III substance and the other protects veterans from being denied benefits from the U.S. Department of Veterans for using cannabis medicinally.
It also follows New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s proposal to fully legalize cannabis in the state, raising the prospect of thousands of new jobs for New York residents and a $300 million boost.
What makes full legalization difficult is 60 votes will likely be required if it’s to be passed through the US Senate. This is no easy feat, especially when the Senate is controlled by Republicans, some of whom aren’t too keen to get the cannabis legalization ball rolling.
“It gives more energy that [Schumer] is fighting for this, that he wants something and that it’s a priority,” stated Micheal Correia, the lead lobbyist for the National Industry Association (NCIA).
It is hoped that Schumer’s legislation will be one of many bills to land on President Biden’s desk, though his support for cannabis reform is limited to very modest changes.
While the President is currently not in support of full legalization for adults, advocates are optimistic that he won’t stand in the way of progress. Furthermore, his picks for top-level administrative roles do offer hope. Amongst them, Vice President Kamala Harris is a strong advocate for radical cannabis reform, citing legalization as the way to end the war on drugs.