Schumer’s legal weed bill is finally here

The legislation includes both Democratic and Republican priorities: It removes federal records related to cannabis and creates funds for law enforcement agencies to combat illegal cannabis cultivation. It also establishes grant programs for small business owners entering the industry who come from communities disproportionately affected by past drug laws, mandates the Department of Transportation to research and develop a national standard for driving impaired by marijuana and limits the marketing of cannabis to minors.

Schumer has been the highest-ranking champion of marijuana legalization in Washington, calling it a top priority for the past two years. It was one of the issues he said Democrats would tackle if they regain the Senate in 2020.

“When a state like South Dakota votes in a referendum to legalize, you know there’s something going on,” Schumer told POLITICO last year. “The American people have begun to speak with a clear message. More than two to one, that they want the law to change.

While marijuana legalization has spread rapidly across the United States over the past decade, Capitol Hill has not moved as quickly. Nineteen states now allow anyone 21 or older to possess and use the drug, and 37 states have established medical marijuana programs. National polls have consistently shown that about two-thirds of Americans support legalizing marijuana, and support is even higher among younger voters.

But the votes aren’t there yet to pass Schumer’s bill on Capitol Hill.

That’s partly because many state legislators 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 it does not support federal decriminalization. A handful of other Democrats told POLITICO they oppose legalization or are undecided, including Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (DN.H.), Joe Manchin (DW.Va.) and Bob Casey (D-Pa.). Schumer would need all of the Democrats, plus ten Republicans, to get the bill across the finish line.

Cannabis legalization advocates have in the past successfully framed it with Republicans as a state rights issue, but some pro-decriminalization Republicans will likely be unhappy with the Bill’s expungement of cannabis-related criminal convictions and its equity granting provisions.

To complicate matters further, the House has twice passed its own marijuana legalization program, known as the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Debarment Act. This bill does not include much of the regulatory structure that is part of the Senate bill, and also has a different tax rate.

And even if a bill were to pass one way or another, it’s unclear whether President Joe Biden would sign it. He has repeatedly said that he does not support federal legalization of weed.

Bipartisan Weed Talks

Instead, some Democrats and Republicans are considering a smaller cannabis bill later this year that could see one or more CAOA provisions added to the SAFE Banking Act, a more widely supported bill that would allow banks to more easily offer financial services to cannabis companies. This plan is still at the discussion stage and nothing formal has been decided.

Many of the changes added to the final Senate bill echo demands regularly made by Republicans. Grants to law enforcement, a national youth prevention campaign and road safety research all align with concerns that skeptics of legalization have frequently raised. Schumer met with Republicans — including Rep. David Joyce (R-Ohio), co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus – in recent months to discuss where the two sides could potentially meet on weed legislation. However, it seems doubtful at this point that the changes will be enough to onboard enough Republicans.

Congress still has a lot to do this year, but Democrats face the possibility that they losing the House in this year’s midterm elections. This has lit a fire under some lawmakers and cannabis advocates to find a weed bill that can pass this year, and it is expected that after this bill receives its fanfare, the discussion on weeds will move towards what is possible to do in this Congress – against what the Democrats dream of being able to accomplish.

“McConnell would never bring these things to the ground,” Schumer said last year. “We will go ahead and try to do that as soon as possible.”

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