Last week, we asked when the Democrats would move on their widely known cannabis plans now that they’re in control of Congress and the White House. Today, we got our answer.
As the snowball of cannabis progress now rolls downhill at a cartoonish pace, Democrats are moving on the momentum they saw at the polls last November. Sure, state ballot initiatives may have helped them seal the deal on taking back the White House. But the energy levels created by the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment, and Expungement (MORE) Act getting the win in the House during the closing days of the previous Congress was very special.
With former Senate MORE Act Champion Kamala Harris off to look at telescopes at the Naval Observatory in preparation of breaking tie votes in the Senate, it was left to Senators Cory Booker, Ron Wyden and Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to issue a joint statement. Their plan starts with a draft discussion bill where they would lay out the best ways to move forward in legalizing and regulating cannabis, and excitingly, speculate what interstate commerce might look like in America after they’re successful.
“The War on Drugs has been a war on people – particularly people of color,” the trio of Senators noted in their joint statement. “Ending the federal marijuana prohibition is necessary to right the wrongs of this failed war and end decades of harm inflicted on communities of color across the country. But that alone is not enough. As states continue to legalize marijuana, we must also enact measures that will lift up people who were unfairly targeted in the War on Drugs.”
The senators went on to note they are committed to putting together a bill “that will not only turn the page on this sad chapter in American history, but also undo the devastating consequences of these discriminatory policies. The Senate will make consideration of these reforms a priority.”
Finally, and also critically, this won’t happen behind the closed doors of the Senate. The stakeholder input will provide advocates to get lawmakers to speak to critical aspects of legalization like getting nonviolent cannabis offenders out of prison and equity in the industry for those communities the bill hopes to empower.
“In the early part of this year, we will release a unified discussion draft on comprehensive reform to ensure restorative justice, protect public health and implement responsible taxes and regulations. Getting input from stakeholder groups will be an important part of developing this critical legislation,” the statement closed.
One of the organizations that helped carry the torch toward this moment for decades is NORML. NORML Political Director Justin Strekal, who essentially serves as the main consumer advocate lobbyist for weed, weighed in on the announcement.
“After years of marijuana policy reform being neglected and mocked by Mitch McConnell, it is heartening to see these Senate leaders working together to repeal the senseless and cruel policy of marijuana prohibition,” Strekal said. “We look forward to constructively engaging with Congressional leaders, other organizations, and those communities that have historically been most impacted by criminalization in order to ensure that we craft the strongest and most comprehensive bill possible to right the wrongs of the nearly a century of federal cannabis prohibition.”
One of the lawmakers who helped hand off the bill to the Senate in the first place is Rep. Earl Blumenauer, a co-chair of the Cannabis Caucus alongside Rep. Barbara Lee of Oakland. Both proved important to getting the win in the House.
“I’m very excited that our champions in the Senate – Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Senators Cory Booker and Ron Wyden – are prepared to move forward together on comprehensive cannabis legislation. Last year, we moved heaven and earth to get a bill passed through the House with key criminal justice and restorative justice provisions, but Mitch McConnell blocked consideration,” Blumenauer said of the news.
Blumenauer went on to note this type of announcement in itself, coming as a point of intent for the party in control of both houses at the start of a new Congress, is a direct result of the time advocates have put in on the issue.
“Now, new Senate leadership is prepared to pick up the mantle. The MORE Act – a product of years of work with advocates, cannabis industry leaders, and state governments – is a great foundation,” Blumenauer said. “We look forward to working with the Senate to refine the bill, advance its core principles, and end the federal prohibition of cannabis once and for all. The missing ingredient in cannabis reform has been Senate action. To finally have the active leadership of the new Senate majority leader, rather than being stuck in McConnell’s legislative graveyard, makes all the difference in the world.”