Monday, May 29, 2023

Senate Dems Waffle on Pot

Schumer and Booker Disappoint Advocates


On April 20, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) wished cannabis users a “Happy 420” and promised to “work like hell” to push through cannabis reform legislation this year. But critics say he and his associates are partially to blame for Congress’ failure to pass any substantial cannabis bills last year.

Those critics are not convinced that Senate Democrats will be able to fulfill their promises.

Schumer was a guest speaker at the National Cannabis Policy Summit Congressional Forum held inside the Capitol building on April 20, an unofficial holiday for cannabis users. “I promise to be in your corner and work like hell bringing federal cannabis policy into the 21st century,” Schumer told advocates.

Schumer noted that the path to reform would be tougher with a Republican-controlled House and called on voters to put pressure on their representatives. “We will need you, as we always do, to reach out to members of both parties, in both chambers—especially Republican—so we can make progress on cannabis reform,” he said.

However, Schumer and his cohorts made efforts to halt modest cannabis reform in the previous Congress, and Democrats allowed even bipartisan cannabis legislation to flounder during the two years that the Democratic party held control over both chambers of Congress as well as the executive branch.

Schumer’s attempts to lay the blame for cannabis reform’s arrested development solely on the backs of Republican lawmakers in power fall flat in light of this failure by Democrat lawmakers who were in power for two years.

It also fails to line up with current right wing populist views on cannabis policy. A Gallup poll conducted in November found that 45 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents support the full legalization of adult-use cannabis, and 39 percent support the federal legalization of medical cannabis.

Only 15 percent said that cannabis should remain illegal federally. With support like that, it shouldn’t be too difficult to pass bipartisan reform bills, but lawmakers continue to fail cannabis advocates year after year, despite promises and platform planks to the contrary.

While there is some bipartisan support for cannabis reform, the issue has become closely linked with the Democratic Party. The party even adopted a platform plank in 2016 that encouraged the federal government to remove cannabis from the list of federally controlled substances and allow states to adopt their own cannabis policies. “We believe that the states should be laboratories of democracy on the issue of marijuana, and those states that want to decriminalize it or provide access to medical marijuana should be able to do so,” wrote the party.

The 2020 Democratic National Convention (DNC) platform promised that “Democrats will decriminalize marijuana use and reschedule it through executive action on the federal level.” The platform once again called for state control over recreational cannabis policies but advocated for the legalization of medical marijuana.

Yet Democratic leadership has consistently failed to pass any such reforms. When Schumer introduced the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act (CAOA), he and co-sponsors Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) said they would actively stand in the way of more modest cannabis reform efforts—like the broadly supported SAFE Banking Act—if their bill was ignored. Booker famously said he would “lay myself down” to stop SAFE Banking from being passed.

The CAOA included drastic reforms that were rejected by many lawmakers and had little legislative support. This made the likelihood of its passage low to begin with, and Schumer’s effort at political blackmail did nothing to increase the bill’s popularity. But it did keep the Senate from passing the SAFE Banking Act, despite its passage in the House and its bipartisan support in the Senate.

Booker—who was once considered a friend-to-cannabis in the Senate—is increasingly becoming more hostile toward reform efforts that don’t precisely parallel his own. Beside his aforementioned threat to block SAFE Banking, he recently characterized cannabis as “dangerous” and criticized the industry for not meeting his standards of equity while being interviewed for a Tisch College presentation.

“Marijuana reform is something profoundly important to me,” he said. “And what is really frustrating me —I thought that legalizing marijuana would have a democratizing force on our country and it has not.”

Booker said he was disappointed that there haven’t been more cannabis record expungements but said he was especially unhappy with how cannabis companies are funded. “The business side of this is not as fair and equal in terms of opportunity as you would think,” he noted. “You have these multi-state operators funded by large hedge funds or large wealthy individuals—who are not diverse—who are going around buying up licenses from desperate people and communities where they thought they were going to help out and make sure that the very people who were disproportional impacted by marijuana prohibition were now going to get an opportunity [for] help on the business side. But that is not happening.”

“Marijuana business in the United States of America is overwhelmingly non-diverse white male,” he added.

Some critics have pointed out that Booker’s issues concerning equity in the current cannabis industry are related but not central to the issues of legalizing or rescheduling cannabis.

Perhaps more concerning, however, were Booker’s comments later in the interview. “This is a drug, and I think it’s a dangerous drug. I really do,” he said, regarding cannabis. “If you have a child, or if you are younger than 25, and you’re drinking or smoking pot, you are damaging your brain in ways that will severely affect your mental health, the wellbeing of your brain,” he said. “if you’ve lived that way of regularly smoking drugs and smoking marijuana, I just think, why? Why would you do it?”


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