As last week’s 420 celebrations kicked into gear, two senators made major announcements about the future of federal cannabis policy. On April 19, Sen. Bernie Sanders announced he would support the Marijuana Justice Act, and then on 420 itself, Sen. Chuck Schumer announced that he would soon be introducing legislation to decriminalize cannabis on the federal level.
With news of the Trump deal to leave states with legal cannabis alone a week earlier, many are saying that the week of 420 in 2018 was the most promising week ever in the 50-year history of marijuana policy reform.
On Friday, Schumer addressed his reasoning for turning a corner on marijuana, noting that this is the first time he has ever supported a pro-cannabis bill.
“The time has come to decriminalize marijuana,” said Schumer. “My thinking — as well as the general population’s views — on the issue has evolved, and so I believe there’s no better time than the present to get this done. It’s simply the right thing to do. This legislation would let the states be the laboratories that they should be, ensure that woman and minority-owned business have a fair shot in the marijuana industry, invests in critical research on THC, and ensures that advertisers can’t target children — it’s a balanced approach. ”
Sen. Cory Booker, the author of the Marijuana Justice Act, issued a statement after Schumer’s new plan was announced.
“Senator Schumer’s announcement today is an important step forward that broadens the base of support for fixing our nation’s broken drug laws,” said Booker. “He’s on the right side of history and I am increasingly confident that more and more elected officials will join the common sense call to tear down the failed and destructive War on Drugs. I applaud Senator Schumer’s announcement, and particularly appreciate his focus on investing in the communities most impacted by marijuana prohibition.”
On the eve of 420, Bernie Sanders announced that he would become the third sponsor of the Marijuana Justice Act in the Senate.
“Here is the simple truth: Blacks and whites have similar rates of marijuana use, but black people are far more likely to be arrested for it,” Sanders said, in his official statement on joining the effort. “Last year, about 600,000 people were arrested for possession of marijuana. Many of those people, disproportionately people of color, have seen their lives destroyed because they have criminal records as a result of marijuana use. That has got to change.”
Sanders went on to continue his campaign trail rhetoric on marijuana’s scheduling saying, “We must end the absurd situation of marijuana being listed as a Schedule I drug alongside heroin. It is time to decriminalize marijuana, as many states have already done, and end the failed war on drugs. We must invest in jobs and education, not more jails and incarceration.”
So where do Schumer and Booker’s plans align, and how does Sanders fit in?
First off, these senators are supporting legislation that would remove cannabis entirely from the banned list in the Controlled Substances Act. This would be a huge development for the cannabis industry. If either bill passes, it would essentially end cannabis prohibition, with a signature from President Donald Trump turning it into law.
Secondly, the senators are all promising to help communities impacted the most by marijuana prohibition to get a shot in the industry. Schumer briefly outlined that his legislation would establish dedicated funding streams for women and minority-owned marijuana businesses. Booker’s plan would establish a specific community fund to provide equitable funding and other social services.
Ultimately, it appears that Schumer’s decriminalization bill is a watered-down version of the Marijuana Justice Act. Schumer made no mention of the resentencing efforts that will be undertaken if the Marijuana Justice Act passes, nor did he discuss a plan on addressing the continued disparities in marijuana enforcement.
We reached out to some of the nation’s leading cannabis organizations to see if the Marijuana Justice Act still has a shot, now that Schumer is presenting something far less progressive for the other side of the aisle to support before the November midterm elections.
Marijuana Policy Project Director of Communications Morgan Fox told Cannabis Now that he thinks Democrats can support both Booker and Schumer’s bills. “[The bills] are not mutually exclusive,” said Fox. “From my standpoint, the more people we have stepping up to sponsor bills, the better. It shows public leadership on the issue, creates more vehicles for congressional change, and gets us closer to a bipartisan compromise bill down the road.”
NORML’s main lobbyist in Capitol Hill, Political Director Justin Strekal, also told Cannabis Now that he thinks Schumer’s 420 announcement is a positive step forward for federal cannabis decriminalization.
“With this announcement, Senator Schumer has effectively made it clear that a legislative priority for the Democratic Party is to end the federal prohibition of marijuana,” Strekal said. “As Democratic leader, it is his role to ensure that the caucus as a whole falls in line with this public policy position — a position that is held by more than 60 percent of Americans.”
While the Schumer’s plan is still a bit hazy, Strekal is hopeful.
“While we have yet to see the actual text for Sen. Schumer’s proposal, we are optimistic about its intentions,” he said. “Between this new bill and the Marijuana Justice Act, these two pieces of legislation will hit the most important aspects of cannabis policy and how we would like to see them addressed from a federal perceptive.”
TELL US, do you think Bernie Sanders’ support for marijuana legalization will help these bills pass?