Schumer announces new legislation aimed at decriminalizing marijuana

"If [it] doesn't hurt anybody else, why shouldn't we allow people to do it and not make it criminal?"

Sen. Chuck Schumer said this week that he plans to introduce new legislation aimed at decriminalizing marijuana (CREDIT: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Sen. Chuck Schumer said this week that he plans to introduce new legislation aimed at decriminalizing marijuana (CREDIT: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

The list of politicians voicing support for decriminalizing marijuana has a new addition: Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY).

In an interview with VICE News on Thursday, Schumer said that he’d be introducing new legislation that aims to decriminalize marijuana at a federal level — as opposed to the piecemeal process of decriminalizing state by state.

Advertisement

“If smoking marijuana doesn’t hurt anybody else, why shouldn’t we allow people to do it and not make it criminal?” he said. “I’ve seen too many people’s lives ruined because they had small amounts of marijuana and served time in jail much too long.”

The bill, in a complete coincidence, will be unveiled on Friday, in time for 4/20, the marijuana high holiday on which crowds of people across the country gather to smoke pot at exactly 4:20 p.m.

Advertisement

Schumer, who has previously backed medical marijuana and the right of states to experiment with legal weed, is one of a growing chorus of centrist politicians advocating legalization. After previously supporting prohibitionist policies, former Speaker of the House John Boehner recently joined the Board of Advisers of Acreage Holdings, one of the nations’ largest cannabis corporations — saying his thinking on cannabis had “evolved”.

New York governor Andrew Cuomo (D-NY) also warmed to the idea of legalization last week, saying that neighboring states like Massachusetts and potentially New Jersey already have, so “for all intents and purposes, it is going to be here anyway.” Sen. Kristen Gillibrand also recently endorsed Cuomo for re-election, raising the possibility that she’ll back any sort of marijuana legalization bill that reaches the Senate floor.

Cuomo’s announcement however was suspiciously timed — just one day prior, his gubernatorial rival, Cynthia Nixon, announced she wanted to legalize marijuana in New York on the grounds that the current laws unfairly punished minorities.

Advertisement

“The simple truth is, for white people, the use of marijuana has effectively been legal for a long time,” she said. “Isn’t it time we legalize it for everybody else?”

But despite the increasing mainstream support for marijuana legalization — which has support from other senators like Cory Booker (D-NJ), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Bernie Sanders (I-VT), there’s still a one immovable obstacle in the way: Jeff Sessions.

The attorney general has been working to crack down on any sort of legalized weed industry in recent months, even though doing so is incredibly unpopular. A January Qunnipiac poll, for instance, showed that 70 percent of respondents opposed cracking down on states’ legalization efforts. Even Republican lawmakers have argued its an issue best left to states.

Sessions, however, hasn’t budged. In January, he rescinded Obama-administration guidance which urged federal law enforcement to stay out of state-level legalization experiments. The move was immediately met with pushback from marijuana advocates.

“This is a big shift in policy and I think we have more questions than answers right now,” Marijuana Policy Project legislative counsel Chris Lindsey told ThinkProgress in January. “Some may get hope from that. But having been on the business end of federal law enforcement before, I think it’s harmful to everybody that we have more questions today than we had yesterday.”

Advertisement

While Sessions maintains that “good people don’t smoke marijuana” and that weed drives violent crime, regardless of statistics, he’s increasingly being left behind by the majority of lawmakers who see legalized marijuana as a potential cash cow. This was seen most recently in March, when Congress’ spending deal prohibited the Department of Justice for going after state medical marijuana growers — despite Sessions’ personal plea.