Three US senators said federal marijuana reform will be a priority this year in the Democrat-controlled Senate, with draft legislation set to be published within the next few weeks.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) issued a joint statement detailing their intent to end federal marijuana prohibition and “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,” they wrote. “The Senate will make consideration of these reforms a priority.”
Sen Cory Booker tweeted: “The failed War on Drugs has been a war on people—particularly people of color. It’s time we end the federal prohibition on marijuana. Looking forward to joining @RonWyden & @SenSchumer to announce reforms that will ensure restorative justice & protect public health.”
Ron Wyden: “We can’t address our country’s racial inequality crisis without ending the outdated, dangerous war on drugs and its disproportionate impact on Black and Brown Americans. @SenSchumer @SenBooker and I are going to introduce legislation to do just that.”
This latest announcement follows mounting speculation that marijuana reform will be on the agenda if the Democrats can retake the Senate, which they managed after election run-off victories in Georgia last month. Sen. Chuck Schumer quickly moved following the Georgia wins to say he would use his power as majority leader to bring marijuana reform legislation to the Senate floor for a vote. Before that, however, the senators will unveil their draft legislation.
“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 statement reads. “Getting input from stakeholder groups will be an important part of developing this critical legislation.”
Schumer previously indicated the resulting draft legislation is likely to comprise multiple marijuana reform bills from the last Congress. One bill that would federally deschedule cannabis – the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act – was passed by the House at the end of last year but didn’t get a hearing in the Republican-held Senate. Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), a longtime advocate for marijuana legalization, expressed his optimism under the Senate’s new majority and championed the MORE Act – introduced to the Senate by Majority Leader Schumer – as “a great foundation” for reform.
“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.”
While President Joe Biden is opposed to full legalization in favor of incremental reforms, such as expungement and decriminalization, it seems unlikely he would wield his veto against marijuana reform legislation passed by Congress, or attempt to talk congressional leaders out of pursuing the measure. Prior to Biden’s election victory, Sen. Ed Markey said a Democrat-controlled Congress would seek comprehensive cannabis reform with or without the president’s blessing.
With the Democrats holding majorities in both chambers, lawmakers are bracing for a raft of cannabis reform proposals. Two cannabis-related bills have been filed in Congress so far in 2021. One would reschedule marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule II of the Controlled Substances Act. The other would prevent the Department of Veterans Affairs from restricting benefits to veterans on the basis of legally using medical marijuana under state law.