The Senate’s top Democrat announced he is introducing legislation to decriminalize marijuana nationwide.
It is the first time that a leader of either party in Congress has endorsed repealing one of the country’s oldest drug laws.
Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) called for sweeping rollback of the nation’s federal laws concerning marijuana on Friday, April 20, the unofficial day to celebrate marijuana use and its culture.
“The time has come to decriminalize marijuana,” Schumer said in a statement.
The legislation would decriminalize marijuana at the federal level by rescheduling it, meaning it would remove the plant from the list of scheduled substances on the Drug Enforcement Administration’s list of controlled substances.
“It’s simply the right thing to do,” Schumer said. “My thinking — as well as the general population’s views — on the issue has evolved, and so I believe there’s no better time than the present to get this done.”
In January, the Pew Research Center found that 61 percent of Americans support the legalization of marijuana, with 70 percent of millennials supporting legalization.
Last year, Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) introduced the Marijuana Justice Act, a bill that would legalize weed across the country. It received the support of Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), whose state legalized marijuana in 2015, and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) who endorsed legalization during his 2016 presidential campaign.
The same day Schumer announced his plan, D.C. Congressional Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) announced she would introduce a bill that would allow residents to use medical marijuana in states where it is legal in federally-assisted housing, including public housing and the Section 8 housing program.
Under current law, the users of drugs illegal under federal law, including medical marijuana, are prohibited from being admitted to federally assisted housing and landlords are permitted to evict current residents based on drug use.
Under Norton’s bill, a person may not be denied federally assisted housing for the use of medical marijuana in jurisdictions where medical marijuana has been legalized.
However, Schumer’s legislation would not legalize marijuana outright. It would simply allow states to decide whether to make the drug available commercially, putting an end to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ recension of federal laws that prevented federal law enforcement agencies from interfering with marijuana businesses in states that legalized it.
But the legislation would maintain federal law enforcement’s authority to prevent trafficking of substance from states that have legalized marijuana to those that have not.
Meantime, a group called Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM) held a news conference to argue that politicians should not rush to support legalization of marijuana amid a national opioid epidemic.
“Our country loves to self-medicate, and now more than ever before,” said former U.S. Rep. Patrick Kennedy, a recovering addict. “A new addiction industry driven by profits will be putting more people in jeopardy.”
Other members of SAM said the organization has been fighting legalization because it believes increased access will lead to increased use. The group supports increased access to drug treatment and reduction and elimination of minor marijuana-related criminal penalties but opposes its broad legalization.
“We need to slow this train down,” said SAM President Kevin Sabet. “Today marijuana is more Wall Street than Woodstock. We need to put people before profit.”
Sabet said more science is needed to determine the potential harm of marijuana, despite numerous claims that the drug is relatively safe.
Schumer’s proposed bill would also ensure that woman- and minority-owned businesses have a fair shot in the marijuana industry, invest in critical research on THC in public safety and health, and prevent advertisers from targeting children.