Last week, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-NY, outlined his views on cannabis legalization in an interview with Politico, and it included a rather optimistic timetable for a potential seismic shift in cannabis policy.
"I am personally for legalization," Schumer said. "And the bill that we'll be introducing is headed in that direction."
Schumer explained he's come around on legalization after nearly a decade of seeing how it has played out on a state-by-state basis. The success of legalization at the state level, combined with rising support from Americans on both sides of the aisle, has convinced the highest-ranking member of the Senate that now is the time.
"Probably the most important power of the majority leader is the ability to put bills on the floor. And the fact that I am introducing a bill, and the fact that people will know that there will be a vote on this sooner or later — that's the big difference."
The difference Schumer is referring to is that Democrats are now in control of both houses of Congress. That matters because just last December the House of Representatives passed the MORE Act, which would have legalized cannabis at the federal level. It didn't, because its companion bill in the Senate never made it out of committee. Notably, that Senate bill was introduced by then-Sen. and now Vice President Kamala Harris.
Harris may be pro-legalization, but President Joe Biden isn't on board. Schumer doesn't seem to mind.
"I want to make my arguments to [Biden], as many other advocates will," Schumer said. "But at some point we're going to move forward, period."
While past efforts at the federal level have fallen short and landed somewhere between symbolic gestures and simply hot air, the circumstances at present allow for cautious optimism. A Democratic House has already voted in favor of legalization. Now a Democratic Senate is poised to take its turn, and the case in favor is being made by party leadership. It's also no longer a partisan issue, as Schumer noted in the interview, with deep red South Dakota voting for legalization this past November.
In Washington, though, that may not matter. When the House passed the MORE Act in December, only five Republicans voted in favor. This time, Democrats don't need any Republican support in the House, but that's no guarantee in the Senate, where Democrats' razor-thin majority leaves legislation vulnerable — at least for now — to filibuster tactics. Besides, it's big news that Chuck Schumer simply said he's moving forward with legalization efforts. While Washington talks, 16 states have already acted. Could this time be different? ♦