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Marijuana Decriminalization Strides Forward as Schumer Announces New Federal Bill

Schumer, the top Senate Democrat, says it's "simply the right thing to do."

"The time has come to decriminalize marijuana," Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Friday. (Photo: Elston/flickr/cc)

"The time has come to decriminalize marijuana," Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Friday. (Photo: Elston/flickr/cc)

In a positive step to address the failed war on drugs, the Senate's top Democrat, Chuck Schumer of New York, announced Friday that he will soon put forth legislation to effectively decriminalize marijuana at the federal level, calling it "the right thing to do for America."

"The time has come to decriminalize marijuana," stated Schumer. "My thinking—as well as the general population's views—on the issue has evolved, and so I believe there's no better time than the present to get this done. It's simply the right thing to do."

"When I first came to Congress in 1981, only 1 in 4 Americans believed marijuana should be made legal. Today, that number has climbed to nearly two thirds, a record high," he writes at Medium.

The Drug Policy Alliance gave the announcement cautious praise, writing on Twitter: "We're glad to see @SenSchumer come around and finally support federal marijuana reform! Looking forward to seeing more details about his bill, but it sounds like he wants to de-schedule marijuana & completely remove it from the Controlled Substances Act."

Schumer first announced the move Thursday—the day before the drug's unofficial holiday—to VICE News. The legislation is expected within the next week, the news outlet reported.

The key change Schumer's legislation would effect is removing marijuana from the list of "Schedule 1" drugs, where it sits alongside heroin and LSD. In a Twitter thread, the senator outlines the other changes it would bring about:

Schumer's formal announcement comes a day after Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) announced he became the third co-sponsor of the Marijuana Justice Act, introduced by  Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.). Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Kirsten Gilibrand (N.Y.) are already co-sponsors, and Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) introduced a companion bill in the House. Lee argued the legislation was especially pressing given the Trump administration's "doubling down on unjust marijuana criminalization policies."

Like Schumer's expected legislation, Booker's bill would take marijuana off the list of scheduled substances. Booker's would also establish a $500 million fund to annually reinvest in communities most impacted by the war on drugs, incentivize states to legalize marijuana, and expunge federal marijuana use and possession crimes.

In a CNN op-ed on Friday, Drug Policy Alliance staffers Jolene Forman and Suchitra Rajagopalan argue that now is the time to "look beyond just legalizing" marijuana and make sure legislation recognizes the disproportionate impact marijuana criminalization has had on non-white communities.

"Marijuana legalization isn't—and shouldn't be—simply about greater access to marijuana," they write. "We must center the people who have been most harmed by decades of racialized drug policies. If we don't, marijuana legalization won't fulfill its potential to repair the devastation that mass criminalization has wrought on black and brown communities."

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