Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) appeared on ABC’s The View and laid out his strategy to get his bill to federally legalize cannabis through the upper chamber.
Alongside Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), the measure’s cosponsors, Schumer recently unveiled the 163 page draft legislation – the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act (CAOA) – which would, among other provisions, federally deschedule marijuana, expunge prior cannabis-related convictions and facilitate legal sales.
“It’s been so over-criminalized at the federal level—it’s treated like heroin or cocaine, very much more serious drugs,” Schumer told Sunny Hostin. “Even worse, we have a person who has a small amount of marijuana—a young person—in their pocket [they] can get arrested, have such a serious criminal record as if they were selling a whole lot of heroin [and] they can almost never recover.”
“First we want to legalize it to make sure that the people who want to use it can use it without this over-criminalization,” Schumer continued. “Secondly, we want to expunge records of people who had a small amount of marijuana in their pockets and are then hurt the rest of their lives. We’d love them to be productive citizens.”
Schumer had previously said the legislation will give priority to small businesses looking to enter the legal cannabis marketplace to avoid the monopolization seen in the alcohol and tobacco industries.
But as far as convincing fellow lawmakers goes, Schumer acknowledges they face a difficult task in reaching the 60 vote threshold required to pass legislation in the Senate, even though the Democrats hold a slim majority. Some moderates in Schumer’s party agree on the need for some kind of cannabis reform, but aren’t convinced by the comprehensive proposal put forward by the three senators.
“We’re now going around to our colleagues saying, ‘Would you sign onto the bill? And if you don’t like what’s in the bill and want some modifications, tell us,’” Schumer said. “I want to get this done. And I think we will get it done because it’s so, so overwhelmingly supported by the American people.”
Booker, for his part, is adamant that Democrats should get behind the CAOA rather than first advance incremental reforms, such as a bipartisan bill to ensure financial institutions can provide services to state-legal cannabis businesses without fear of federal reprisals. The New Jersey senator went so far as to say “I would lay myself down” to block any such bill from passing before full cannabis legalization had been approved.
Schumer agrees the CAOA should take priority, but on The View he instead focused on the reform’s strong public support across demographic divides, citing recent successes at the ballot box in typically conservative stronghold states like South Dakota and Montana as proof that “Americans are for legalization.”
Schumer, Wyden and Booker made marijuana legalization a priority for the Senate earlier this year, and quickly moved to engage stakeholders and advocacy groups for input on what shape the legislation should take. Now, the senators have opened a public comment period for the proposal, and an email address through which people can offer their thoughts, which will remain open until September 30.