Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer says that even though President Joe Biden is resistant, he intends for Congress to make moves to federally legalize marijuana. In an interview with Politico’s Natalie Fertig, Schumer said work on just such a bill has already begun, and it is “headed in [the] direction” of legalization as opposed to just decriminalization.
“I am personally for legalization. And the bill that we’ll be introducing is headed in that direction,” Schumer said. Decriminalization would end carceral punishment for some possession of marijuana charges and treat it as a minor violation, whereas legalization would bring more broad-sweeping changes and would end criminal charges for marijuana possession.
Biden has voiced support for decriminalization, but not yet legalization. During the vice-presidential debate, Vice President Kamala Harris said a Biden-Harris administration “will decriminalize marijuana, and we will expunge the records of those who have been convicted of marijuana.”
At a press conference this week, Press Secretary Jen Psaki said that the president “believes in decriminalizing the use of marijuana, but his position has not changed” on broader measures such as legalization.
But Schumer expressed hope the president’s views will evolve. “[Biden] said he’s studying the issue, so [I] obviously want to give him a little time to study it,” Schumer said. “I want to make my arguments to him, as many other advocates will. But at some point, we’re going to move forward, period.”
Fifteen states plus D.C. have already legalized marijuana—including New York (Schumer’s home state), New Jersey, Virginia and New Mexico in the past few months—but a House bill to legalize marijuana on a federal level was blocked from coming to the Senate floor by Republican senator and then-majority leader Mitch McConnell.
Schumer actually opposed legalization until 2018. What changed his mind? You can thank the weed-friendly Rocky Mountain state for that. He told Politico that he was in Denver and spoke with “average folks” about how legalization helped the state.
“[They said] it benefited the state, and [didn’t] hurt the state,” Schumer said. “There were tax revenues, but people had freedom to do what they wanted to do, as long as they weren’t hurting other people. That’s part of what America is about. And they were exultant in it.”