Chuck Schumer, Hakeem Jeffries Reintroduce Bill to Federally Decriminalize Marijuana

Has the moment for the Marijuana Freedom and Opportunity Act arrived?
Chuck Schumer, Hakeem Jeffries Reintroduce Bill to Federally Decriminalize Marijuana

Another year, another federal marijuana decriminalization bill proposal? It’s starting to seem that way for Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, who has joined forces with New York representative Hakeem Jeffries on Schumer’s second decriminalization bill in two years.

“The Marijuana Freedom and Opportunity Act is a phenomenal step forward in terms of social, racial, and economic justice in the context of what many people view as the failed War on Drugs that has been with us for decades,” said Jeffries in a homey video that the men released on Friday as part of the bill’s announcement. They shot the clip in the neighborhood both men grew up in, at Brooklyn’s BRIC arts and culture center.

Central to the bill — which will be introduced in both houses by the dynamic duo — is the re-scheduling of cannabis so that the drug is no longer include on the federal list of controlled substances. That will allow states some wiggle room in crafting their own legislation around marijuana, and alleviate some of the worries of current cannabis providers and users that they could be subject to federal prosecution down the line for their connection to the plant.

It will also dictate a certain level of support for small entrepreneurs in any resulting legal industries. “Let’s not have some big fancy corporation, some big tobacco company make all the money,” says Schumer in the video. The bill will include coordination through the Small Business Administration to support new business owners who are women and/or people of color.

Given the wave of decriminalization measures that have recently passed across the country, timing makes sense for the introduction of the federal bill. Even in the South, certain states are making progress towards rejecting small time marijuana crime prosecution.

New Mexico’s governor passed decriminalization legislation last month. West Virginia voters will get a chance to vote on the issue, Alabama’s most populous county announced it would no longer prosecute marijuana misdemeanors, and up in New York state, prosecutors have dismissed possession warrants. In Texas, the House of Representatives approved a decriminalization bill last week, but the legislation was pronounced deceased when it reached the state’s Senate. (Dallas isn’t waiting around for state-level go-ahead, however; the city recently saw its own seismic shakeup in terms of misdemeanor prosecution.)

Though Senate Republicans, as ever, present a considerable obstacle to the passage of Jeffries and Schumer’s bill, it remains unclear that the president will be a problem in its passage. Trump — whose former aide just got going in the cannabis biz — signaled approval for Senator Cory Gardner’s cannabis legalization bill last year.

The pair of Brooklyn legislators remain hopeful that 2019 could be marijuana’s national decriminalization moment. Jeffries even sees the federal decriminalization bill as the natural next move after the First Step Act, another law that he co-sponsored and which was signed into effect by the president in April.

Of course, what the Marijuana Freedom and Opportunity Act does not do is legalize cannabis, instead allowing those decisions happen in state capitols across the country. “What we’re saying is very simple; let each state do what it wants,” summed up Schumer.

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