Senate Democrats poised to introduce cannabis bill, hearing scheduled for next week

As Congress enters its traditional August recess — and this year’s midterm election draws closer — Senate Democrats finally seem poised to introduce a bill that would end the federal ban on marijuana.

The Senate Criminal Justice and Counterterrorism Subcommittee has scheduled a hearing for next week titled “Federal Cannabis Decriminalization: Steps Necessary to Address Previous Harms.”

Subcommittee chair Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) has taken a leading role in drafting the Senate’s cannabis reform legislation.

The hearing is scheduled for Tuesday.

Bloomberg previously reported that Senate Democrats intended to introduce the bill this week.

Each time legislation falls, it will mark long-awaited action by a Democratic faction that has worked methodically on cannabis reform – despite repeated pledges from party leaders that it will go ahead.

In early April, House Democrats passed their own pot legalization package: the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment, and Expungement (MORE) Act, which would take cannabis out of the Controlled Substances Act.

Senate Democrats said they would push their own cannabis reform bill, which was overseen by Booker, Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden, and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.

After previously saying the Senate would release its own version by the end of April, Schumer said the bill would likely be introduced closer to the August congressional recess.

And after recent suggestions that Senate Democrats might try to offer a more modest package of reforms, it now appears that they will try to catch up with the House of Representatives and also end federal bans.

Politico reported last month that Schumer “does not have the votes to pass sweeping marijuana decriminalization legislation — although he has repeatedly touted his support for ending federal prohibition,” and that “the finding is prompting Senate Democrats to to look for a compromise on weed”.

But Bloomberg reported last week that Democrats will indeed introduce the legislation that Booker, Wyden and Schumer have been working on: the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act, which will also remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act, although it also gives states some discretion in introducing would give their own cannabis laws.

Bloomberg noted that “legislation faces great odds in the evenly divided chamber” as 60 votes are required for passage.

The bill faces significant opposition from Republicans in the chamber and even some Democratic members.

President Joe Biden has long said he supports the decriminalization of cannabis but not full legalization – although he has struggled to explain the difference.

Earlier this week, Biden reiterated his belief that no one “should be in prison for using marijuana,” saying he is working with Congress on a bill to fulfill his promise to release inmates convicted of crimes related to marijuana Marijuana in jail.

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

Despite the slow progress of the bill in the Senate, Schumer has made an unequivocal call for comprehensive cannabis reform.

“We’re going to move forward,” Schumer told Politico last year. “[Biden] said he was studying the problem, so [I] obviously I want to give him a little time to study it. I want to present my arguments to him, as many other advocates will. But eventually we will move on, period.”

“In 2018, I became the first member of the Democratic leadership to speak out in favor of ending federal bans. I’m sure you’re asking, “Well, what’s changed?” Well, my thinking has evolved. When some of the early states—Oregon and Colorado—wanted to legalize, all opponents spoke of the parade of the terrible: crime would rise. Drug use would increase. Anything bad would happen,” he added. “State legalization has worked remarkably well. They were a great success. The parade of the terrible never happened, and people were given more freedom. And people in those states seem very happy.”

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