The wait for the Senate’s version of a cannabis legalization bill will continue for months, with Democratic leaders in the chamber indicating Thursday that it will come sometime in the summer.
According to The Hill, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said that he’s proud of the progress senators have made in “bringing this vital bill closer to its official introduction” before the recess in early August.”
The timeline marks a shift from what Schumer had said previously and it may dismay legalization advocates who had hoped that the Senate’s legislation would arrive sooner—especially after the U.S. House of Representatives passed its own bill to end prohibition on the federal level earlier this month.
The New York Democrat said after the House’s passage that he hoped the Senate would unveil its legalization measure by the end of this month.
On April 1, the Democratic-led House passed the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment, and Expungement (MORE) Act, which would remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act, effectively ending the federal prohibition on pot.
Sen. Cory Booker, a New Jersey Democrat who is working with Schumer and Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden on the Senate’s legalization bill, said that the bill passed by the House was unlikely to win approval in the Senate, which is also controlled by Democrats.
“Right now we’re looking at doing the one that we’ve been working on for a long time,” Booker said, as quoted by Roll Call.
According to The Hill, Schumer said that the Senate’s bill is titled “the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act,” and the majority leader said the legislation will remove cannabis from the federal list of controlled substances and “help repair our criminal justice system, ensure restorative justice, protect public health, and implement responsible taxes and regulations.”
Schumer and other Democrats on Capitol Hill have made it clear since the party took control of Congress and the White House last year that they intended to move on federal legalization.
In an interview with Politico last year, Schumer said that Democrats would take action, despite President Joe Biden’s reluctance to support legalization.
“We will move forward,” Schumer said. “[Biden] said he’s studying the issue, so [I] obviously want to give him a little time to study it. I want to make my arguments to him, as many other advocates will. But at some point we’re going to move forward, period.”
Schumer said in the interview that seeing legalization work on the state level contributed to his evolution on the issue.
“In 2018, I was the first member of the Democratic leadership to come out in support of ending the federal prohibition. I’m sure you ask, ‘Well what changed?’ Well, my thinking evolved. When a few of the early states—Oregon and Colorado—wanted to legalize, all the opponents talked about the parade of horribles: Crime would go up. Drug use would go up. Everything bad would happen,” Schumer said. “The legalization of states worked out remarkably well. They were a great success. The parade of horribles never came about, and people got more freedom. And people in those states seem very happy.”
During the 2020 presidential campaign, Biden said that he supported decriminalizing cannabis, but stopped short of advocating legalization.
Following the House’s passage of the MORE Act earlier this month, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said that the president believes “current marijuana laws are not working.”
“We look forward to working with Congress to achieve our shared goals, and we’ll continue having discussions with them about this objective,” Psaki said at a press briefing.
Winning over Biden may prove easier than getting support from Republicans, however. As The Hill noted, “Many Republicans are opposed to legislation legalizing marijuana, posing one of the biggest hurdles to Schumer getting such a measure through the 50-50 split Senate,” and that to “secure passage, Democrats would need the support of their entire caucus, and at least 10 Republicans to bypass a likely filibuster.”
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