Senate Dems Ready To Introduce Cannabis Bill, Hearing Scheduled Next Week

Chuck Schumer, the Democratic leader in the Senate, had said that the marijuana reform bill would be introduced before the August recess.

With Congress set to break for its traditional August recess––and with this year’s midterm elections drawing nearer––Democrats in the Senate finally appear ready to introduce a bill that would end the federal prohibition on pot.

The Senate Subcommittee on Criminal Justice and Counterterrorism has scheduled a hearing for next week that is titled, “Decriminalizing Cannabis at the Federal Level: Necessary Steps to Address Past Harms.”

The chair of the subcommittee, Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), has taken a leading role in crafting the Senate’s cannabis reform legislation.

The hearing is scheduled for Tuesday.

Bloomberg had reported previously that Senate Democrats intended to introduce the bill this week.

Whenever the legislation drops, it will represent long-awaited action from a Democratic caucus that has moved methodically on cannabis reform––despite repeated pledges from party leaders that it will get done.

At the beginning of April, Democrats in the House of Representatives passed their own pot legalization package: the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment, and Expungement (MORE) Act, which would deschedule cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act.

Senate Democrats said they would move forward with their own cannabis reform bill that has been overseen by Booker, Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. 

After previously saying that the Senate would release its own version by the end of April, Schumer said that the bill would likely be introduced closer to the Congressional recess in August.

And after recent suggestions that Senate Democrats might be looking to offer up a more modest reform package, it now appears that they will seek to match the House and end the federal prohibition as well.

Politico reported last month that Schumer “doesn’t have the votes to pass a sweeping marijuana decriminalization bill — despite repeatedly touting his support for ending federal prohibition,” and that “realization is leading Senate Democrats to look for a compromise on weed.”

But Bloomberg reported last week that Democrats will indeed introduce the bill that Booker, Wyden and Schumer have been working on: the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act, which will also remove pot from the Controlled Substances Act, although it would also give states discretion to establish their own cannabis laws.

Bloomberg noted that “the legislation faces long odds in the evenly divided chamber,” with 60 votes necessary for passage.

The bill faces significant opposition from Republicans in the chamber, and even some Democratic members.

President Joe Biden has long said that he is in favor of decriminalization of cannabis, but not outright legalization––though he has struggled to explain the distinction.

Earlier this week, Biden reiterated his belief that no one “should be in prison for the use of marijuana,” and said that he is working with Congress on a bill to fulfill his promise to release inmates serving time for pot-related offenses.

It is unclear whether he supports either the House’s MORE Act or the Senate’s Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act.

Despite the slow-motion progress of the bill in the Senate, Schumer has been unequivocal in his support for sweeping cannabis reform.

“We will move forward,” Schumer told Politico last year. “[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.”

“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,” he added. “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.”

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