Schumer ‘Promises,’ “Next Year,” To Take on Federal Marijuana Decriminalization!

After reform advocates suffered a string of defeats this month, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) is making a “pledge” to keep working toward federally decriminalizing marijuana in 2023. On Thursday, Schumer spoke on the Senate floor to recognize the contributions of one of his departing staff members, Reggie Babin, who has been instrumental in pushing for cannabis reform legislation.

The majority leader lamented, “there are a couple of things that he didn’t get done—his goal to help us decriminalize Marijuana, one of his passions because he had seen how badly it had hurt communities throughout the country.” It was a close call, but we didn’t quite make it. However, Schumer “pledged” to Babin that “we are going to continue your work and your legacy next year.”

He said, “I believe we can get it done, and you have built a great bipartisan coalition.” While Schumer, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR), and Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) did produce a comprehensive marijuana legalization bill in July, it has long been apparent that the expansive legislation did not have enough support to clear the 60-vote threshold required for passage in the Senate.

Thus, Schumer has been hard at work finalizing a package of more gradual reforms, with a focus on banking for cannabis and expungement. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and other Republicans made it difficult for the bill’s advocates to attach it to the large spending or defense bills that needed to move before the end of the session.

Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO), the primary House sponsor of the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act, filed an amendment to the appropriations omnibus bill on Friday to include the reforms, but he did not force a vote on it before he retired from Congress. According to a recent report from within the Senate, majority leader Schumer was “making a last-ditch effort” to attach the cannabis banking language to the spending bill, but ultimately failed.

Until the next Congress, he said, when Republicans take over the House, the issue would not be addressed. Drug policy reform took a backseat as a final agreement was negotiated, and it’s clear that negotiations were fraught over adding anything new to the spending bill.

Several reform proposals that were attached to spending measures approved by the House and Senate earlier this year were left out of the legislation, including language for SAFE Banking and SAFE Plus. Another major defeat for advocates is that the bill as passed retains a rider that prevents the District of Columbia from establishing a system of regulated Cannabis commerce.

Sherrod Brown (D-OH), chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, had previously indicated that he didn’t expect cannabis banking to be a major issue until 2023. However, a staffer said earlier this month that Brown would be willing to push the issue through the spending package if it included more comprehensive reforms.

Representative Patrick McHenry (R-NC), the incoming chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, has recently signaled that he shares the view that this is an issue that must be resolved after the lame-duck session. He said he still doesn’t support SAFE Banking, but he didn’t close the door on supporting it if his fellow Republicans want to push it. For my part, I guarantee a transparent procedure. ‘I shared my thoughts with my group,’ he said.

Members are free to form their own opinion on the bill based on the information provided. The rules seem to be different in each state. Booker has also placed the blame on McConnell, saying that the senator’s outspoken opposition to cannabis reform has discouraged Republican senators who might otherwise vote for a bill containing SAFE Banking language.

According to him, the Republican leadership is “dead set” on legalizing some form of marijuana. “That is the problem, in my opinion.” He continued, “The caucus is clearly divided, but the people in power within their caucus are clearly against doing anything on marijuana.

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