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Chuck Schumer Introduces Bill to Federally Decriminalize Marijuana

Although it would not legalize marijuana, Sen. Chuck Schumer introduces bill to federally decriminalize marijuana by re-classifying it.

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Chuck Schumer Introduces Bill to Federally Decriminalize Marijuana
Jeff McEvoy/ Wikimedia Commons

In the newest development on the cannabis legislation front, Chuck Schumer introduced a bill to federally decriminalize marijuana. Although his proposal would not make weed fully legal, it could be a significant step toward relaxing national prohibition laws.

Chuck Schumer’s New Bill

New York Senator Chuck Schumer introduced a new bill yesterday. The centerpiece of the bill is a proposal to remove cannabis from the DEA’s list of Schedule I controlled substances.

De-scheduling marijuana would effectively decriminalize weed by moving into a much less severe category. Cannabis would still technically be illegal, but moving it out of its current Schedule I classification would dramatically change the way federal prohibition laws would be enforced.

Interestingly, that’s not the only change Rep. Schumer’s bill would make. It would reportedly also introduce a handful of other changes. If the bill is passed into law it would:

  • Establish funds specifically for marijuana businesses owned by women and marijuana business owners of color.
  • Set aside $750 million for highway safety programs and other public health projects.
  • Allow the Treasury Department to regulate certain aspects of cannabis advertising and marketing.
  • Set up around $100 million in grants to help expunge criminal records of folks who have been convicted in the past for marijuana-related crimes.

As announced by Sen. Schumer, the bill is being co-sponsored by Sen. Bernie Sanders, from Vermont, Sen. Tim Kaine, from Virginia, and Sen. Tammy Duckworth, from Illinois.

For those involved with the bill, it’s all about addressing problems with how weed laws are enforced. More specifically, some lawmakers see it as a way to confront racial disparities in drug policing.

“Far too many Americans are currently incarcerated for marijuana-related offenses,” said Sen. Duckworth. “And they are disproportionally people of color, despite the fact that African Americans and Caucasians use marijuana at the same rates.”

The Bigger Picture

One of the bill’s co-sponsors, Bernie Sanders, has been a longtime supporter of legalization. In fact, his home state of Vermont legalized cannabis earlier this year. Now, the state’s new recreational laws are set to go into effect on July 1.

Recently, Vermont has taken additional legal steps. In particular, it is looking at the possibility of expunging prior marijuana convictions. All told, this could potentially clear around 3,000 people of misdemeanor charges.

While many states continue changing their own local laws, things are more complicated at the national level. For starters, the Trump administration has introduced a lot of confusion.

On the one hand, Trump himself has so far steered clear of directly interfering with state laws about weed. But Attorney General Jeff Sessions has been a longtime opponent of cannabis.

Sessions has a long history of making off-the-wall comments about the dangers of marijuana. And he’s repeatedly hinted at initiating a federal crackdown on weed-legal states.

At the beginning of the year, he rescinded an Obama-era directive that restricted federal agents from interfering with state laws regarding marijuana.

All in all, it remains unclear where the current administration stands. Certainly, nothing has been to move any closer toward federal legalization.

Sen. Schumer’s bill isn’t the only proposal to call for changes to federal marijuana laws. Earlier this year, Rep. Barbara Lee introduced to the House a bill calling for the national legalization of marijuana.

Her bill was a companion piece to similar legislation proposed last fall in the Senate by Sen. Cory Booker. That bill, called the Marijuana Justice Act, called for sweeping changes to federal prohibition laws.

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