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Senate Dems Ready To Introduce Cannabis Bill, Hearing Scheduled Next Week

With Congress set to break for its traditional August recess––and with this year’s midterm elections drawing nearer––Democrats in the Senate finally appear ready to introduce a bill that would end the federal prohibition on pot.

The Senate Subcommittee on Criminal Justice and Counterterrorism has scheduled a hearing for next week that is titled, “Decriminalizing Cannabis at the Federal Level: Necessary Steps to Address Past Harms.”

The chair of the subcommittee, Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), has taken a leading role in crafting the Senate’s cannabis reform legislation.

The hearing is set for Tuesday.

Bloomberg previously reported that Senate Democrats planned to introduce the bill next week.

Whenever the legislation drops, it will represent long-awaited action from a Democratic caucus that has moved methodically on cannabis reform––despite repeated pledges from party leaders that it will get done.

Beginning in April, Democrats in Congress passed their pot legalization package, the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment, and Expungement Act. It would de-schedule cannabis under the Controlled Substances Act.

Senate Democrats stated that they plan to move forward with their own marijuana reform bill which was overseen by Booker and Oregon Senator Ron Wyden. 

Schumer stated that after previously stating that the Senate would publish its version before the end of April; however, the bill will likely be presented closer to August’s Congressional recess.

After recent speculations that Senate Democrats could be looking for a smaller reform package, it seems that they will now seek to match House efforts to repeal the federal prohibition.

Politico reported last month that Schumer “doesn’t have the votes to pass a sweeping marijuana decriminalization bill — despite repeatedly touting his support for ending federal prohibition,” and that “realization is leading Senate Democrats to look for a compromise on weed.”

Bloomberg last week reported that Democrats would indeed present the bill Booker, Wyden, and Schumer had been working on. It is the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act. This will remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act. However, it will allow states to create their own cannabis laws.

Bloomberg noted that “the legislation faces long odds in the evenly divided chamber,” with 60 votes necessary for passage.

Republicans and some Democrats are opposed to the bill.

President Joe Biden has long said that he is in favor of decriminalization of cannabis, but not outright legalization––though he has struggled to explain the distinction.

Earlier this week, Biden reiterated his belief that no one “should be in prison for the use of marijuana,” and said that he is working with Congress on a bill to fulfill his promise to release inmates serving time for pot-related offenses.

It is unclear whether he supports either the House’s MORE Act or the Senate’s Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act.

Schumer supports comprehensive cannabis reform despite slow motion progress in the Senate.

“We will move forward,” Schumer told Politico last year. “[Biden] said he’s studying the issue, so [I]You want him to take the time to read it. As many advocates, I will also present my points to him. But at some point we’re going to move forward, period.”

“In 2018, I was the first member of the Democratic leadership to come out in support of ending the federal prohibition. I’m sure you ask, ‘Well what changed?’ Well, my thinking evolved. When a few of the early states—Oregon and Colorado—wanted to legalize, all the opponents talked about the parade of horribles: Crime would go up. The drug use will increase. Everything bad would happen,” he added. “The legalization of states worked out remarkably well. They proved to be a huge success. They were a great success. The parade of the horribles did not happen, so people had more freedom. And people in those states seem very happy.”