Following his announcement in April that he intended to file a marijuana deschedulalization bill, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer this week filed the Marijuana Freedom and Opportunity Act, which would remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act — where it is currently listed as a Schedule I drug, alongside heroin and LSD.
Schumer’s bill now competes with the STATES Act put forward by Senators Cory Gardner of Illinois and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, which would allow states to regulate cannabis as they see fit. Schumer’s bill also competes with Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey’s Marijuana Justice Act, which not only would deschedule cannabis but also creates funding for communities impacted by the War on Drugs and wipes cannabis crimes from federal records.
Trump specifically backed the Gardner effort after the senator lifted his blockade of Department of Justice nominees. Gardner started that blockade early in the year in response to the move by Attorney General Jeff Sessions to rescind the Cole Memo, which previously had directed federal prosecutors not to target marijuana producers who were in compliance with state law.
In a statement on his new bill, Schumer noted it would allow states to continue to function as laboratories of democracy and ultimately decide how they will treat marijuana possession. His bill would not change federal authorities’ ability to prevent trafficking from states where marijuana is legal to states where is not. The bill also preserves the federal government’s ability to regulate marijuana advertising and would expunge cannabis records.
“The time to decriminalize marijuana is now,” said Schumer in a statement.
“The new Marijuana Freedom and Opportunity Act is about giving states the freedom to be the laboratories that they should be and giving Americans — especially women and minority business owners as well as those convicted of simple possession of marijuana intended for personal use — the opportunity to succeed in today’s economy,” Schumer said.
Schumer’s Marijuana Freedom and Opportunity Act is cosponsored by Senators Bernie Sanders, Tim Kaine and Tammy Duckworth.
The nation’s oldest marijuana reform organization, NORML, said that they were pleased with what the minority leader came up with in this new attempt to end cannabis prohibition, and welcomed the shift in policy from the Democratic party’s leadership.
“The Marijuana Freedom and Opportunity Act is comprehensive legislation that would end our nation’s failed 80-year prohibition of marijuana and allow states to implement reforms free from the threat of federal interference,” said NORML Political Director Justin Strekal in a statement.
Strekal said he was glad Schumer’s plan would go back to back to clean up some of the mess that marijuana prohibition has created.
“The importance of this bill’s emphasis on facilitating the expungement the criminal records of individuals for marijuana possession cannot be overstated,” said Strekal. “Millions of individuals have suffered from the lifelong collateral consequences of criminal prohibition, making it harder for them to find a job, obtain housing and access higher education.”
On the other side of Capitol Hill, the folks at the Marijuana Policy Project were equally pleased with what they were seeing from Schumer.
“This proposal is yet another sign that Congress is moving toward a major shift in U.S. marijuana policy,” said MPP Executive Director Matt Schweich, following the release of the Marijuana Freedom and Opportunity Act. “Senate leaders from both parties have now signaled their support for ending prohibition at the federal level and adopting a system that respects state laws regulating marijuana for medical and adult use.”
In Schweich’s perspective, the debate is transitioning from whether marijuana should be legalized to how it should be legalized.
“There are still hurdles to overcome in Congress, just as there are for any other issue, but things are clearly headed in the right direction,” Schweich said. “A strong and growing majority of Americans think it is time to end marijuana prohibition, and states are moving quickly to develop their own marijuana policies. Members of Congress do not want to find themselves on the wrong side of history — or their constituents.”
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