On 4/20, Chuck Schumer To Introduce Bill To Decriminalize Marijuana
Politics isn't always red or blue. Lately, it has been green.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., plans to introduce legislation on Friday to decriminalize marijuana on the federal level, adding a high-profile advocate in the effort to decriminalize, legalize and normalize marijuana use in America.
Schumer's legislation would remove marijuana from the list of scheduled substances under a 1970 law that classifies marijuana as dangerous as heroin for legal and regulatory purposes.
It would establish funding for women- and minority-owned marijuana businesses, require more research on the drug's public health impact, and maintain federal authority to regulate commercial advertising, similar to existing regulations for tobacco and alcohol.
"If smoking marijuana doesn't hurt anybody else, why shouldn't we allow people to do it and not make it criminal?" Schumer told Vice News Tonight on HBO in a Thursday interview previewing his bill. To drive home that point, Schumer also agreed to sign a bong.
The move is coming on 4/20, the unofficial holiday celebrating marijuana use and culture.
Here's what happened when @Shawna handed Senator Chuck Schumer (@SenSchumer) a bong #Happy420 pic.twitter.com/XbJ2shPUxw— VICE News (@VICENews) April 20, 2018
Schumer's support is the latest indicator of the green wave affecting American politics, with growing support across the political spectrum to change the way the federal government sees marijuana.
Former House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, made headlines last week after he announced he was joining the board of a marijuana company and would now help advocate for legalization policies, swiftly reversing a lifetime of opposition to the drug.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., took a baby step in that direction last week by introducing legislation to permanently decriminalize hemp, a nonpsychoactive byproduct of cannabis, that has been a boom for Kentucky farmers in recent years.
The reversals are fueled by a growing number of states that are successfully experimenting with changing marijuana laws — and enjoying the revenue they are bringing in to help their cash-strapped states. Colorado voted to legalize the drug for recreational use in 2012, and there is essentially no lingering political dispute anymore about its merits from either party there.
Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., waged a battle against the Trump administration this year after Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded an Obama-era memorandum that advised federal law enforcement to deprioritize marijuana for prosecution. Gardner held up Trump's nominees for the Justice Department until he received a personal assurance from the president that his administration would not crack down on states that have legalized marijuana.
Gardner is also drafting bipartisan legislation that would make it clear that states have the right to determine their own marijuana laws without federal interference.
Across the aisle, liberal lawmakers are likewise flocking to co-sponsor bills to roll back marijuana restrictions. On Thursday, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats, became a co-sponsor of New Jersey Democratic Sen. Cory Booker's bill to legalize marijuana and let people convicted in the past of marijuana possession get their criminal records expunged. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., is already a co-sponsor.
The three are all possible 2020 presidential contenders — another indicator of which way politicians see the country moving when it comes to marijuana policy.
Thirty states and the District of Columbia have already passed laws legalizing marijuana in some form, such as for medical use. Nine of those states and D.C. have gone a step further to legalize the drug for purely recreational purposes.
Marijuana is also making health care advances this week. The Associated Press reported that a group of U.S. health experts on Thursday endorsed the use of a medicine made from the marijuana plant to treat seizures in children. If the Food and Drug Administration follows the group's recommendation, it would become the first drug derived from the cannabis plant to win federal approval in the country.
The culture shift is also changing the way people celebrate 4/20. Revelers are trading in secret parties and furtive passes for public celebrations. USA Today reports that Denver is anticipating tens of thousands of people to gather Friday for what is considered "the world's largest 420 celebration."
Correction April 20, 2018
A previous version of this story incorrectly implied that Sen. Bernie Sanders is a Democrat. He is an independent who caucuses with the Democrats.