In his first interview since taking charge of Congress' upper chamber, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) announced that cannabis reform would be among his top priorities for 2021.
Former Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) notoriously killed every cannabis-related bill that crossed his desk, with the exception of the Farm Bill, which he personally sponsored. But now that the Democrats have flipped the Senate, the majority leadership role has passed to Chuck Schumer, who is far more amenable to weed reform.
Although Schumer hasn’t specifically endorsed full legalization, he has advocated for cannabis reform as a means to end unequal enforcement of prohibition laws. In 2018, the senator proposed the Marijuana Freedom and Opportunity Act, a bill that would federally decriminalize cannabis, allowing individual states to set their own pot laws without fear of federal intervention. The bill failed, but Schumer promised last year that he would reintroduce it if the Democrats retook the Senate.
“I’m a big fighter for racial justice, and the marijuana laws have been one of the biggest examples of racial injustice, and so to change them makes sense,” said Schumer during an interview with Green Enterprise last October. “And that fits in with all of the movement now to bring equality in the policing, in economics and in everything else. Our bill is, in a certain sense, at the nexus of racial justice, individual freedom and states’ rights.”
Now, in a new interview with MSNBC, Schumer has indicated that he intends to stick to his promise. When asked about his legislative priorities for this year, the senator responded that he will be focusing on climate change, election reform, and economic and racial equality. Schumer added that cannabis reform is an essential element of the latter, because minorities and lower-income individuals have historically borne the brunt of pot prohibition laws.
“A young man is arrested with a small amount of marijuana in his pocket,” Schumer illustrated to MSNBC, according to Marijuana Moment. “He has a criminal record the rest of his life, can’t become a productive citizen—this one won’t hire him, that won’t hire him. Change that. There’s lots to do, and we have to succeed.”
Congress' 2021 legislative session has only just begun, but there are already several cannabis reform measures on the table. Florida Republican Rep. Greg Steube just proposed two new bills – one that would reclassify marijuana as a Schedule III drug with accepted medical use, and another to block the feds from punishing veterans who use medical pot.
Lawmakers have yet to vote on these new bills, but there are already several finalized weed reform proposals awaiting the approval of the Senate. One of these bills, the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment, and Expungement (MORE) Act, would completely remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act and allow people with former weed convictions to clear their records.
The House also passed the Medical Marijuana Research Act, a bill that would increase researchers' access to high-quality cannabis, with strong bipartisan support last month. These bills had no chance of success under McConnell's watch, but under Democratic leadership, it's far more likely that they will see the light of day.