After failing to get any meaningful legislation passed before the end of 2022, Senate Democrats recently met to discuss marijuana reform.
On the day when a groundhog in Pennsylvania comes out of his burrow to pronounce whether or not winter will continue for another six weeks, lawmakers in Washington have once again taken up their new annual shadow dance of cannabis reform rhetoric and promised action.
As first reported by Marijuana Moment, Senate Majority leader Chuck Schumer met with several other key Democratic senators on Wednesday to examine various legislative options to address the ever-growing cannabis conundrum facing Congress, the White House and frustrated industry stakeholders.
Schumer met with Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), and Senate Banking Committee Chairman Sherrod Brown (D-OH) to lay out a plan for how the Senate might approach the polarizing issue now that the balance of power in the House of Representatives has switched back in favor of a Republican majority.
It is uncertain if the leadership group discussed specific bills or cannabis-related issues. However, it is fair to assume that they most likely picked up where they left off last session with a focus on the SAFE Plus package of marijuana banking and expungements legislation. One curious omission from the proceedings was any invited involvement by Republicans.
Marijuana legalization is one of those rare “unicorn” issues in Washington since politicians on both sides of the political aisle support some form of cannabis reform. Previously, Republican lawmakers, including Sens. Steve Daines (R-MT) and Dan Sullivan (R-AK), had been part of the bipartisan discussions regarding marijuana legislation during the last session of Congress. However, they were not part of yesterday’s meeting led by Senator Schumer.
Schumer and Booker have primarily been responsible for leading the charge in the Senate. Last year the pair introduced a comprehensive marijuana legalization package that ultimately fell short when it became apparent that it would not garner the 60-vote threshold in the Senate. As a compromise, Schumer pivoted and led a bipartisan and bicameral negotiation that ultimately led to the SAFE Plus Banking measure, which also failed to pass despite efforts to include it in large-scale defense and omnibus spending legislation.
Following the 30-minute meeting on Wednesday, Booker emerged hopeful and determined. He said, “I think that Senator Schumer and I and Wyden last Congress announced a vision for cannabis reform, and this was a discussion about how do we make progress in this Congress. We were realistic. You know, we’ve got a divided Congress, but we’ve got to work on something that can get done.”
"I think that Senator Schumer and I and Wyden last Congress announced a vision for cannabis reform, and this was a discussion about how do we make progress in this Congress. We were realistic. You know, we’ve got a divided Congress, but we’ve got to work on something that can get done.”
- Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ)
Advocates and stakeholders are cautiously optimistic that some meaningful cannabis legislation might actually pass and reach the President’s desk to be signed into law this session. However, with the Republicans assuming control of the House following last November’s election, there is less enthusiasm considering the tumultuous battle it took just to agree on a new Speaker of the House.
While a complete end to prohibition seems a much more daunting task at this point, Senator Schumer and other leaders in the Senate, like Booker and Brown, are focused on an incremental approach to the overall issue of legalization. For his part, Sen. Brown is determined to address the banking and financing component offered up in the SAFE Plus bill. As the Banking Committee chair, he is in a vital position to help push that critical legislation through the Senate chamber.
No matter what the Senate or House decides to do concerning marijuana reform, there is still the question of where President Biden stands on the issue of legalization. While he has not come out in support of an outright end to prohibition, he has demonstrated a substantial change in his attitude toward cannabis.
Last year he issued a massive pardon for those convicted of federal marijuana possession charges. He also signed into law the first-ever standalone federal marijuana reform legislation calling for more research into the plant this past December. However, the issue of banking reform for the cannabis industry is something his Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said remains in Congress’ court with no plans on the part of the President to resolve the issue.
Marijuana reform represents a cultural and economic microcosm of the current challenges facing the United States. With almost half the states having already passed laws legalizing recreational cannabis use and close to 80% of them with some type of medical marijuana program, it is clear that Americans want and need legal marijuana.
Nevertheless, despite these overwhelming facts, Congress and the White House remain writhing in the quicksand of divisive partisan bickering and inaction on the topic. It could very well end up that every state in the union eventually legalizes marijuana use and sale, with the still Schedule I plant remaining a federal crime to possess, consume or grow. America!