For the first time in American history, the Senate Majority Leader proposed legislation to end the federal government’s ban on marijuana. But the passage of the bill is going to a challenge.
During a press conference at the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Senators Cory Booker of New Jersey and Ron Wyden of Oregon unveiled a draft of their bill, the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act, which if passed, will end the federal ban on marijuana and regulate and tax it like alcohol and tobacco.
With the Senate split 50-50 Democrats and Republicans, Schumer needs at least 60 votes to defeat a filibuster and get the bill passed. The senators know that they will now have to whip votes if they want to see the bill passed.
“We don’t have the votes necessary at this point,” Schumer said during the press conference. “But we have a large majority of our caucus for it. We’re going to show it to the others and say, ‘Well, what don’t you like? What do you like? And we’ll see if we can get the support.’ We’re going to put our muscle behind it, all our effort behind it, and we’re going to get this done ASAP.”
The proposal is a discussion draft, not a formal bill. The senators will be taking comments from Congress and the public until September 1 and then submit the final legislative language.
Schumer said he understands it’s going to be a challenge, but he is encouraged. “We’re going to fight hard to change and America is on our side,” he said, referring to the fact that 70% of Americans support legalization and 18 states, including his home state of New York, have legalized adult-use. He also pointed to the fact that South Dakota, via a ballot measure, passed adult-use during the 2020 election.
“Even in South Dakota, one of the most conservative states in America, a majority voted to legalize adult recreational use of marijuana,” said Schumer. “If South Dakota can do it. The Senate should be able to do it.”
There is a big caveat to that example. Even though 54% of voters in South Dakota approved the ballot initiative that legalized adult-use cannabis, it might be nullified. South Dakota’s Republican Gov. Kristi Noem directed a sheriff and superintendent of the South Dakota Highway Patrol to file a lawsuit in hopes to overturn the vote by claiming the initiative’s language violated the state’s single-subject rule. The South Dakota Supreme Court has yet to make a final decision on the case.
Another obstacle is the President of the United States, Joe Biden. Biden supports decriminalization, not legalization. Schumer, however, minimized how Biden is not aligned with him and his colleagues Booker and Wyden.
“The White House knows we are introducing this legislation and we intend we intend to show them the draft legislation and ask them to support it,” said Schumer.
At the White House press briefing room later in the day, Jen Psaki, press secretary to President Biden, pumped the breaks.
“I’ve spoken in the past about the President’s views on marijuana, nothing has changed,” says Psaki, referring to how President Biden is not in favor of legalization. “There’s no new endorsements of legislation to report today.”
In response to another question, Psaki admitted that she has not spoken with Biden about Schumer’s bill. “Again, [decriminalization, not legalization] remains his position and certainly he’d be encouraged by steps to implement that, but I have not spoken with him in recent days about marijuana or legislation on this,” she said.
The thing about Schumer, Wyden and Booker’s bill is that it does not propose legalizing cannabis across the U.S. At its heart, it’s a states rights bill. If it were to pass, the bill would end the federal prohibition by removing it from the list of federally banned substances, put the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau in charge of regulating the industry and leave it up to the states to legalize or ban the drug.
Despite the challenges ahead for the proposed legislation, Booker perhaps summed up the day the best: “This is a this is a historic day,” said Booker. “The United States of America has never seen a day like this before. This is the first time in American history that the majority leader of the United States Senate is leading the call to end prohibition of marijuana.”