Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) joined other lawmakers, advocates and celebrities in New York City on Saturday to speak at a marijuana rally as he works to finalize a bill to end federal cannabis prohibition.
This marks the second year in a row that the leader participated in the NYC Cannabis Parade & Rally. Also making an appearance was House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), whose bill to federally legalize marijuana passed the full chamber last month.
Schumer stressed to rally attendees that he’s working to win bipartisan support for the forthcoming bill he plans to introduce with Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ).
“I have invited every U.S. senator—every Democrat, every Republican—to come meet with us and tell us why they won’t support the bill or whether they will, and I’m making good progress,” Schumer said. “I’ve already met with six Republicans, so we can get 10 [and] we can get the 60 votes we need on the floor of the Senate to pass legislation that is so important.”
Schumer, who said the goal is to “legalize cannabis from one end of America to the other,” may in fact need to win over the support of more than 10 Republicans—itself a tall order—as not all 50 members of his Senate Democratic caucus support legalization at this point.
“This is mainstream. A majority of America believes we should legalize once and for all. And we are working to do that in the United States Senate. We are working hard to get that done.”
Nonetheless, he exuded confidence in reform’s prospects at the rain-soaked New York City rally.
“No rain, or anything else, can dampen our enthusiasm to legalize marijuana,” he said. “Nothing can stop us with all of you standing side by side.”
Schumer said that soon after he, Wyden and Booker finish drafting the bill, “we’re going to then get all our Republicans on board, as many as we can…and fight until we get our 60 votes. The sooner we get this done, the better.”
Nadler, for his part, called the House’s passage of his legalization bill last month “a huge milestone,” but noted that “we have much more work to do before it becomes law.”
Advocates and stakeholders have been closely following Schumer as he and colleagues prepare to formally introduce the Cannabis Administration & Opportunity Act (CAOA), which they unveiled in draft form last year.
There’s been some frustration over the timeline, however, as the leader previously said the plan was to file it last month before walking that back and instead saying that it would be introduced before the August recess, giving lawmakers additional time to build bipartisan support.
The Senate leader said last month that he was making a “promise” to get CAOA filed by the new self-imposed deadline.
Schumer and other speakers at the marijuana rally didn’t just focus on Congress, however. People also celebrated the legalization of cannabis at the state level in New York, where adult-use retail shops are expected to launch by the end of the year.
Schumer touted his home state’s cannabis law, saying he is “proud that New York has the most complete legalization bill there is.”
“We want to get the rest of America and catch up with us,” he said.
Meanwhile, a top staffer for Schumer also recently spoke about the path forward for the federal legalization bill, as well as the prospects of passing incremental measures like cannabis banking reform, in the interim.
With growing disappointment over the delays in the Senate, there are some holding out hope that the leader will allow legislation to safeguard banks that work with state-legal marijuana businesses to advance first.
Schumer and colleagues have repeatedly insisted that comprehensive legalization is the priority and should come before the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act, which has passed the House in some form six times now.
The more recent potential vehicle for the banking reform is the America COMPETES Act, a large-scale manufacturing bill that’s heading to bicameral conference. The House included the SAFE Banking language in its version, but it was stripped out in the Senate. However, key conferees in both chambers have signaled that they will be pushing to re-attach the proposal in the final package that’s sent to the president’s desk.
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It remains to be seen if Schumer will pose an obstacle to that end, as SAFE Banking sponsor Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO) accused him of doing after the House put the reform in a wide-ranging defense bill last year.
When it comes to CAOA, the leader and colleagues have said that the newly extended timeline is necessary, enabling them to spend more time refining the bill’s provisions with feedback from the public and bipartisan lawmakers that could help them overcome a steep vote threshold for passage in the chamber. Democrats hold just a slim majority in the Senate, and not everyone in the party is on board with legalization.
Meanwhile, several Republican members of Congress introduced a bill last November to federally legalize and tax marijuana as an alternative to far-reaching Democratic-led reform proposals and scaled-down GOP cannabis descheduling legislation. The sponsor of that bill, Rep. Nancy Mace (R-SC), said she expects a committee hearing on her proposal.
A bipartisan group of congressional lawmakers also filed a bill last month that would simply direct the attorney general to create a commission charged with making recommendations on a regulatory system for marijuana that models what’s currently in place for alcohol.
Reps. Dave Joyce (R-OH), Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) and Brian Mast (R-FL) are teaming up on what’s titled the Preparing Regulators Effectively for a Post-Prohibition Adult-Use Regulated Environment Act (PREPARE) Act—an incremental reform meant to inform comprehensive cannabis policy changes in the future.