Senator Schumer to Introduce Bill to Decriminalize Marijuana

Alicia Ault

April 20, 2018

Democrat Chuck Schumer, the Senate minority leader, said he plans to introduce legislation that will allow states that want to legalize marijuana to do so, without fear of federal prosecution.

"Today, I am formally announcing my plan to decriminalize marijuana at the federal level," said Schumer, in a tweet. "It's time we allow states, once and for all, to have the power to decide what works best for them."

Schumer issued his call on April 20, a date that is traditionally upheld by marijuana enthusiasts as a day to partake of cannabis. At press time, he had not formally introduced legislation, but the Democrat said on Twitter that he believes states "should function as their own laboratories of democracy. My bill is a step in the right direction aimed at removing the barriers to state legalization efforts."

He said the legislation is aimed in part at reducing disparities in enforcement that have led to a disproportionate number of people of color being incarcerated for marijuana-related offenses. "A staggering number of American citizens, a disproportionate number of whom are African-American and Latino, continue to be arrested every day for something that most Americans agree should not be a crime," said Schumer, in a post on Medium.

"Meanwhile, those who are entering into the marijuana market in states that have legalized are set to make a fortune. This is not only misguided, but it undermines the basic principles of fairness and equal opportunity that are foundational to the American way of life," he said.

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The senator said his legislation would still allow the federal government to enforce laws against interstate trafficking so that marijuana does not cross into states that have chosen not to legalize. And, he said, his legislation "will invest critical resources into the THC research needed to prevent unintended effects on our youth and ensure highway safety."

States are increasingly thinking about legalizing marijuana. According to the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), marijuana is legal for medical purposes in 22 states, the District of Columbia, and the US territories of Guam and Puerto Rico. Eight states have legalized marijuana for adults, and adult possession and limited home cultivation are legal in the District of Columbia and Vermont. More than 20 states are expected to consider bills to regulate marijuana this year, the MPP said.

In 2013, the Obama administration announced it would not enforce federal laws against individuals and businesses that are in compliance with state medical or adult-use marijuana statutes. In January 2018, US Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded that policy.

President Donald J. Trump, however, has repeatedly taken a softer stance against marijuana. On April 13, Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO) said he'd received a commitment from Trump that the Sessions action "will not impact Colorado's legal marijuana industry." In addition, Gardner said, the president "has assured me that he will support a federalism-based legislative solution to fix this states' rights issue once and for all."

Gardner had threatened to block all federal nominations until he was assured that Colorado would not be a federal target.

According to the MPP, Congress voted in March to prevent federal money from being spent to interfere with state medical marijuana programs. But states with legal marijuana do not have such protections, the MPP said.

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