By Natalie Fertig Schumer’s legal weed bill is finally here
Senate leaders are introducing sweeping legislation Thursday meant to lift federal prohibitions on marijuana more than 50 years after Congress made the drug illegal.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act would decriminalize weed on the federal level and allow states to set their own marijuana laws without fear of punishment from Washington. Schumer’s legal weed bill is finally here
The bill has been a long time coming — Schumer, along with Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) proposed a discussion draft more than a year ago — and its odds of passing in this Senate are slim. But the legislation will shape the conversation around cannabis legalization going forward and portions of it are likely to find their way into other bills that could pass before the end of the year.
The legislation includes both Democratic and Republican priorities: It expunges federal cannabis-related records and creates funding for law enforcement departments to fight illegal cannabis cultivation. It also establishes grant programs for small business owners entering the industry who are from communities disproportionately hurt by past drug laws, requires the Department of Transportation to research and develop a nationwide standard for marijuana-impaired driving, and restricts the marketing of cannabis to minors.
Schumer has been the highest-ranking champion of marijuana legalization in Washington, labeling it a top priority over the last two years. It was one of the issues he said Democrats would tackle if they took back the Senate in 2020.
“When a state like South Dakota votes by referendum to legalize, you know something is out there,” Schumer told POLITICO last year. “The American people started speaking sort of with a clear message. More than two-to-one, that they want the law changed.”
While marijuana legalization has spread rapidly across the U.S. over the past decade, Capitol Hill has not transitioned as quickly. Nineteen states now allow anyone at least 21 years old to possess and use the drug, and 37 states have established medical marijuana programs. National polls have consistently shown that roughly two-thirds of Americans back marijuana legalization, and support is even higher among younger voters.
But the votes aren’t yet there to pass Schumer’s bill on Capitol Hill.
That’s in part because many lawmakers from states with legal markets don’t yet support substantial changes to federal law. Democratic Sen. Jon Tester, for example, represents a state where weed is legal — Montana — and says he does not support federal decriminalization. A handful of other Democrats told POLITICO that they are against legalization or are undecided, including Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Bob Casey (D-Pa.). Schumer would need all Democrats, plus ten Republicans, to get the bill over the finish line.