Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has long been a proponent of legalizing recreational marijuana. On April 20th, the so-called Weed Smokers’ Holiday, the New York Senator made his opinions very clear. He started the day with a simple message on Twitter: “Happy 420,” Schumer tweeted, signing off, “From the Senate Majority Leader.”
Senator Schumer now says he believes marijuana should be and will be legal for recreational use nationwide by 4/20 of the year 2022: “Hopefully, the next time this unofficial holiday, 4/20, rolls around, our country will have made progress in addressing the massive overcriminalization of marijuana in a meaningful and comprehensive way.”
The Status of Federal Marijuana Legislation
Senator Schumer, along with Senator Cory Booker (D – NJ) and Senator Ron Wyden (D – OR), are working on legislation to adjust the country’s marijuana laws. The plan is to not only allow for the purchase and sale of cannabis but also to set up systems that will help heal the nation and protect it from further damage due to marijuana.
The bill aims to prioritize small businesses, particularly those that have been most impacted by the War on Drugs. It would also keep big tobacco and alcohol companies from coming in and taking over the industry. However, the final draft of the bill isn’t finalized yet. Americans are still waiting to see what that group has come up with. In the meantime, Senator Schumer is using this year’s 4/20 to publicize his platform.
“Today is what you might call a very unofficial American holiday: 4/20,” Senator Schumer said on the house floor on April 20th, 2021. “It’s as appropriate a time as any to take a hard look at our laws that have over-criminalized the use of marijuana and put it on par with heroin, LSD, and other narcotics that bear little or no resemblance in their effects, either on individuals, or on society more broadly.”
Shifting Attitudes Towards Legalization
Between 2000 and 2019, the number of Americans who say cannabis should be legal has doubled (and then some). Older Americans are getting on board, with 32% saying marijuana should be allowed; meanwhile, 70% of adults under the age of 30 are okay with it. To date, there are 16 states, plus the District of Columbia, that allow recreational pot.
More than 138 million Americans now live in states that have legalized recreational marijuana – about 42% of the entire nation’s population. New York’s longtime lawmaker said to his fellow Senators that the law has been unfairly applied and should be removed from the books.
“The War on Drugs has too often been a war on people – particularly people of color. For decades, young men and women – disproportionately young men and women of color – have been arrested and jailed for even carrying a small amount of marijuana, a charge that often came with exorbitant penalties and serious criminal records from which they might never recover. Being rejected from job after job… because this minor, minor deviation from the law was listed as a serious criminal record.
It makes no sense. It’s time for a change.” Senator Schumer is taking action now, knowing that he has more play with a Democratic majority in the House of Representatives and Senate, along with a Democrat in the White House (although the President’s views toward marijuana are much more conservative than Schumer’s) for the time being.
However, Senator Schumer has pointed out that marijuana reform is gaining traction even in some traditionally conservative areas, such as South Dakota, which voted for legal weed this year. Now, the state’s Governor, Krisi Noem, is working to override South Dakotans’ voter-approved measures. Other Republicans have shown support for legalization, too; 5 GOP members of the House voted to pass the MORE Act, which would decriminalize marijuana possession and consumption of small amounts. In younger age brackets, such as the 18-29 age demographic, 63% of Republicans favor legalizing marijuana for recreational and medical use, according to the Pew Research Center.
Schumer's Public Statements on Legalization
Later in the afternoon on April 20th, the Senator lit up Twitter, sending out message after message about marijuana laws. Around noon, he wrote, “Legislators in New York not only legalized marijuana—but ensured restorative justice for those harmed by the War on Drugs.
This is the right approach and a model for how we should deal with this issue in Congress. I will keep working to end the federal marijuana prohibition.” Less than an hour later, he added, “In state after state, in ballot initiatives and constitutional amendments, Americans are sending a clear message—they want an end to marijuana prohibition.
I’m working with @SenBooker & @RonWyden on comprehensive marijuana reform legislation in the Senate.” Throughout the day, the Senator continued. He tweeted out an article from Gothamist, shared by NORML (The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws), with the caption, “Schumer says it’s time to end federal cannabis prohibition.”
Schumer said in the quote-tweet, “For decades, young men and women—disproportionately men and women of color—have been arrested and jailed for carrying even small amounts of marijuana. I’m working to end the federal prohibition and undo the harms of the War on Drugs.” Next, he quote-tweeted a graph from the Pew Research Fact Tank that showed 91% of adults in the United States say marijuana should be legal.
“Americans are sending a clear message: We must end the federal prohibition on marijuana,” said Senator Schumer. “That’s why I’m working in the Senate to end the federal prohibition and to repair the damage done by the War on Drugs.”
Schumer is still going to face pushback from his Republican colleagues. Senator John Cornyn (R – TX) joked to the Washington Post that Senator Schumer must be smoking something himself. Senator Roy Blunt (R – MO) told the newspaper he doesn’t see significant Republican support for the decriminalization of the product. Other GOP members have said they want to keep things up to the states, and federal intervention isn’t necessary.
Schumer and President Joe Biden seem to differ in their views, with Schumer being much more enthusiastic about legalization. The President, meanwhile, supports only decriminalization at the federal level, believing states should be able to individually choose whether they want to take steps toward full legalization.
However, Senator Schumer recently argued that he and President Biden are technically fighting for the same thing: “I support decriminalization at the federal level, and we’ll be introducing legislation with a few of my colleagues shortly,” said Schumer. “Decriminalization, legalization. At the federal level, you call it decriminalization, because that lets the states legalize.”