Three leading champions of marijuana reform in Congress said on Monday that the issue will be prioritized in the new Democratic Senate this year and that they plan to release draft legislation in the coming weeks to begin a conversation about what the federal policy change will look like.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) said in a joint statement that ending cannabis prohibition “is necessary to right the wrongs of this failed war and end decades of harm inflicted on communities of color across the country,” but that alone “is not enough.”
The lawmakers, each of whom has advocated for federal legalization, said that “we must also enact measures that will lift up people who were unfairly targeted in the War on Drugs,” especially as more states opt to legalize.
“We are committed to working together to put forward and advance comprehensive cannabis reform legislation that will not only turn the page on this sad chapter in American history, but also undo the devastating consequences of these discriminatory policies,” they said. “The Senate will make consideration of these reforms a priority.”
This is a narrative that’s been building in recent months, with Schumer saying on several occasions both before and after the election that he would work to move reform legislationwith his new power to control the Senate floor agenda. Since Democrats secured a majority in the chamber, the stage is set for action.
“In the early part of this year, we will release a unified discussion draft on comprehensive reform to ensure restorative justice, protect public health and implement responsible taxes and regulations,” the senators said. “Getting input from stakeholder groups will be an important part of developing this critical legislation.”
A bill to federally deschedule cannabis cleared the House last year, but it did not advance in the GOP-controlled Senate. Lawmakers like Schumer and Booker stressed that Democrats reclaiming a majority in the chamber was an imperative for any comprehensive reform to pass this year.
“After years of marijuana policy reform being neglected and mocked by [Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY)] it is heartening to see these Senate leaders working together to repeal the senseless and cruel policy of marijuana prohibition,” NORML Political Director Justin Strekal said.
“We look forward to constructively engaging with Congressional leaders, other organizations, and those communities that have historically been most impacted by criminalization in order to ensure that we craft the strongest and most comprehensive bill possible to right the wrongs of the nearly a century of federal cannabis prohibition,” he said.
Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), who has spent decades working to end marijuana prohibition and is a co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, said in a press release that he’s encouraged that Senate’s new majority is “prepared to move forward together on comprehensive cannabis legislation.”
He added that the House-passed Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act to legalize marijuana “is a great foundation” for reform in the 117th Congress. The new legislation would likely be referred to Wyden’s panel, the Senate Finance Committee, for consideration once introduced.
“We look forward to working with the Senate to refine the bill, advance its core principles, and end the federal prohibition of cannabis once and for all,” Blumenauer said. “The missing ingredient in cannabis reform has been Senate action. To finally have the active leadership of the new Senate majority leader, rather than being stuck in McConnell’s legislative graveyard, makes all the difference in the world.”
Recent comments from the Schumer, the majority leader, indicate that whatever bill is filed will likely include components of multiple pieces of legislation from the last Congress, which he said are actively being merged.
With Democrats in control, advocates and lawmakers are preparing for a deluge in marijuana reform proposals that could see floor action and make their way to President Joe Biden’s desk.
Although the president does not support full legalization and only backs relatively modest cannabis reforms, advocates are hopeful that he would not veto or seek to undermine any broad marijuana legislation that congressional leaders decide to prioritize.
Already in 2021, two congressional marijuana bills have been filed: one to move cannabis from Schedule I to Schedule III of the Controlled Substances Act and another to prevent the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs from denying veterans benefits solely because they use medical marijuana in compliance with state law.
Read the full joint statement on Senate marijuana reform priorities below:
Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senators Cory Booker, D-N.J., Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., issued the following joint statement regarding comprehensive cannabis reform legislation in the 117th Congress:
“The War on Drugs has been a war on people—particularly people of color. Ending the federal marijuana prohibition is necessary to right the wrongs of this failed war and end decades of harm inflicted on communities of color across the country. But that alone is not enough. As states continue to legalize marijuana, we must also enact measures that will lift up people who were unfairly targeted in the War on Drugs.
“We are committed to working together to put forward and advance comprehensive cannabis reform legislation that will not only turn the page on this sad chapter in American history, but also undo the devastating consequences of these discriminatory policies. The Senate will make consideration of these reforms a priority.
“In the early part of this year, we will release a unified discussion draft on comprehensive reform to ensure restorative justice, protect public health and implement responsible taxes and regulations. Getting input from stakeholder groups will be an important part of developing this critical legislation.”
This story originally appeared at Marijuana Moment.