Schumer, Senate Dems unveil proposal to federally decriminalize marijuana

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer was joined by Senators Cory Booker of New Jersey and Ron Wyden of Oregon to unveil new legislation that would federally decriminalize marijuana by removing it from the federal controlled substances list. 

"This is monumental because at long last, we are taking steps in the senate to right the wrongs of the failed war on drugs," Schumer said during a press conference Wednesday. "The war on drugs has really been a war on people, particularly people of color. ... It’s not just an idea whose time has come, it’s long overdue."

The legislation would remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act, which would expunge the records of people with nonviolent offenses tied to marijuana. It would also set up a taxing structure for the drug.

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Marijuana legalization laws have been sweeping the nation over the last few years, with 18 states now fully legalizing the drug and 37 permitting the use of medical marijuana. 

In June, Connecticut became the 18th state to legalize the recreational use of the drug, while New Yorkers can now possess up to 3 ounces of cannabis under a legalization bill signed by Governor Andrew Cuomo in March. And last year, voters in New Jersey approved a recreational marijuana bill that allows adults to buy and use marijuana without needing a medical reason.

While public polling suggests that nearly two-thirds of Americans say that marijuana should be legal for recreational or medical use, Schumer's bill may run into several legislative roadblocks. According to POLITICO, several Democratic senators would be reluctant to vote for such a bill, and Schumer would need the votes of at least 10 Republicans. Moreover, Schumer would also need to get President Joe Biden, who has supported decriminalizing marijuana but not legalizing it, to sign the bill.

In December, the U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation that would federally decriminalize marijuana, provide various forms of relief to nonviolent federal marijuana convictions, and reinvest in communities hit hardest by the war on drugs.

The Democratic-controlled House voted 228-164 to pass the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act, or the MORE Act. The federal cannabis reform bill was the first of its kind in either chamber of Congress.

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