Senate Leader Backs Marijuana Decriminalization

By Alfonso Serrano Apr 20, 2018

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) will introduce legislation today (April 20) to decriminalize marijuana at the federal level, joining other high profile politicians who have recently endorsed the drug’s legalization and decriminalization.

In an interview with Vice News on Thursday (April 19), Schumer discussed the impact of criminalization. "I’ve seen too many people’s lives ruined because they had small amounts of marijuana and served time in jail, much too long," he told Vice News. The Senate leader also highlighted how drug policy harms Black and Latinx communities in a statement provided to The Washington Post: "This has had a disproportionate effect on communities of color."

Nearly 80 percent of people in federal prison for drug offenses are Black or Latinx, according to a study from the Drug Policy Alliance. And a study by the American Civil Liberties Union found that Black people are nearly four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana use as their White counterparts, even though they use the drug at similar rates. 

Besides removing cannabis from the Drug Enforcement Administration’s list of controlled substances, Schumer’s measure would provide funding for marijuana businesses owned by people of color.

If passed, that provision would mirror recent recreational marijuana measures approved in California and Massachusetts, which set aside funding for the communities most affected by the war on drugs. California’s measure also allows residents with marijuana-related misdemeanors and felonies to petition to expunge their criminal records.

Schumer joins other politicians who have recently called for more relaxed cannabis laws, as states increasingly approve recreational and medicinal cannabis measures, and as public opinion tilts toward support for legalization. A January poll from the Pew Research Center found that 61 percent of Americans think marijuana should be legalized.

On Thursday, Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) became a co-sponsor of the Marijuana Justice Act, a bill Senator Cory Booker (D-N.J.) introduced last year that would end federal prohibition of the drug and cut federal funding to law enforcement in states that disproportionally incarcerate people of color for marijuana offenses. The measure would also set aside $500 million for job training and job re-entry in communities of color. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) is also a co-sponsor of the legislation.