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Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer says he wants to make the “long overdue” issue of marijuana reform a priority for Congress, saying it will provide “justice” for those harmed by harsh cannabis laws.
The New York Democrat released a video on his Twitter account Thursday featuring a conversation with Sens. Cory Booker of New Jersey and Ron Wyden of Oregon about the ills of marijuana laws and to announce that they would be introducing their legislation in the coming days.
He said the reform legislation would focus on small business, especially those in communities bearing the brunt of the marijuana laws – and “justice, justice, justice — as well as freedom.”
Part of the effort would be to ensure that Big Tobacco doesn’t overpower smaller companies.
“We don’t want the big tobacco companies and the big liquor companies to swoop in and take over,” Schumer said. “The legislation we have will make sure that smaller businesses, businesses in communities of color, get the advantage because communities of color have paid the price for decades. They should at least get something back.”
“For decades,” he said, “young men who were arrested with a small amount of marijuana in their pockets served long prison terms and then they had a felony record and could never make themselves right.”
“I want to take it off the federal list that makes it as serious a drug as heroin or cocaine,” Schumer said.
Schumer said the legislation was “long overdue” because when states decriminalized or legalized marijuana use, the crime rates that critics warned would shoot up never materialized.
Most states allow medical marijuana and 15 states, two US territories and the District of Columbia have passed ballot measures or enacted laws that allow recreational marijuana.
Federal prohibition makes it difficult for state-legal businesses to access traditional banking services, and businesses cannot transport cannabis across state lines, impeding the growth of major national brands.
Wyden, the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee that would take up a reform measure, said it’s “long past time to address the harms of the failed war on drugs.”
“My state was one of the first, and people went to the polls and they said this marijuana prohibition, folks, just doesn’t work. And certainly communities of color have been devastated by these failed policies,” he added.
“I don’t think they’re going to accept any more dawdling from the federal government. It’s kind of like the federal government has been in a time warp,” Wyden said, “We’ve got a real shot now at making progress.”
Booker agreed with his Democratic colleagues.
”It’s not just about creating an environment where states are legalizing, it’s about restorative justice, and that’s a number of things,” Booker said.
“That’s, one, making sure that we expunge records. Don’t talk about free adult use of marijuana without talking about expunging records. Number two, the tax money—this is going to be a multibillion dollar business. Those tax receipts should be reinvested in those in those communities,” he said.
Schumer said along with decriminalizing marijuana use, people’s records should be expunged “so that they don’t live their lives as if they committed the most dastardly felony because they smoked marijuana.”
Previously unsuccessful bipartisan legislation called for federalization of marijuana laws in recognition of the de facto situation where federal law generally is not enforced if growers and venders respect state law.
A 2018 proposal from then-Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) to federalize marijuana policy was supported by former President Donald Trump.
But it’s unclear if the Democratic plan can pass the Senate, where 60 votes typically are required for bills to pass.
Although recent polls by Gallup and Pew found that more than two-thirds of the US population supports marijuana legalization — including about half of Republican voters — elected officials of both parties tend to be more hesitant.
A number of Democratic senators say they aren’t ready for legalization, meaning Schumer’s bill could struggle to even reach 50 votes in the evenly divided Senate.
“Sadly I think there are real concerns about whether marijuana is an entry-level drug,” Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) told Business Insider in a recent interview.
Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), whose state’s voters broke 57 percent in favor of a recreational pot ballot measure in November, told the publication, “I personally am not somebody that thinks it should be legalized.”
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