Pubdate: Fri, 20 Apr 2018
Source: Baltimore Sun (MD)
Copyright: 2018 The Baltimore Sun Company
Authors: David Weigel and John Wagner


The Senate's top Democrat announced Friday that he is introducing
legislation to decriminalize marijuana, the first time that a leader
of either party in Congress has endorsed a rollback of one of the
country's oldest drug laws.

Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., in a statement called
the move "simply the right thing to do."

"The time has come to decriminalize marijuana," Schumer said. "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."

Schumer first shared his intentions Thursday in an interview with Vice
News, in which he decried the negative effects of current marijuana
laws, under which the drug has the same legal classification as
heroin. He said too many people caught with small amounts of marijuana
had spent too much time in jail and that current laws have had a
disproportionate effect on minority communities.

Marijuana legalization, which spent years as a fringe political cause,
has become increasingly popular with all voters and increasingly
embraced by Democrats. In January, the Pew Research Center found 61
percent of Americans supportive of legalization, with support reaching
70 percent among millennials.

Last year, Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., who is seen by many Democrats as
a potential presidential candidate in 2020, introduced the Marijuana
Justice Act, which would legalize the drug nationwide; it was later
endorsed by Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., whose state legalized marijuana in
2015, and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., who is also seen as a
potential presidential contender. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., who
endorsed a marijuana-legalization initiative in California during his
2016 presidential campaign, endorsed Booker's bill Thursday morning.

Schumer is introducing separate legislation on Friday - a date that is
an unofficial holiday for marijuana users. His bill would not legalize
marijuana outright, but instead allow states to decide whether to make
the drug available commercially. It would end the limbo that marijuana
sellers find themselves in, months after Attorney General Jeff
Sessions rescinded Obama-era guidance that prevented federal law
enforcement officials from interfering with the marijuana business in
states where it had legal status.

"The bill lets the states decide and be the laboratories that they
ought to be," Schumer said. "It also will ensure that minority- and
woman-owned businesses have a dedicated funding stream to help them
compete against bigger companies in the marijuana business.
Critically, we ensure that advertising can't be aimed at kids, and put
real funds behind research into the health effects of THC," referring
to the primary psychoactive substance in marijuana.

The legislation would also maintain federal authority to regulate
marijuana advertising in the same way it does alcohol and tobacco
advertising. The aim, Schumer said, is to ensure that marijuana
businesses aren't allowed to target children in their

Schumer's move was quickly celebrated by legalization supporters, who
began the week by thanking Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell for
fast-tracking a bill that would legalize industrial hemp.

"In the past week or so we've seen an unprecedented escalation of
political support for marijuana law reform," said Tom Angell, chairman
of Marijuana Majority. "It seems as if both parties may have finally
realized just how popular marijuana legalization is with voters and
are afraid of the other party stealing the issue."

Democrats see the Schumer bill as part of an ongoing effort to attract
young voters, who tend not to participate in midterm elections.
Schumer has also gotten behind a campaign to restore "net neutrality,"
regulation that would prevent Internet service providers from skewing
the prices or download speeds for certain kinds of data.

"The time for decriminalization has come, and I hope we can move the
ball forward on this," Schumer said.
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