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Congress will move on legalization after election, Sen. Chuck Schumer says

Published on October 31, 2022
(Ann Clancy illustration with AP photo)

Sen. Chuck Schumer told voters Sunday that Congress will move on cannabis legalization, but only after the mid-term elections during Congress’ so-called lame-duck session.

Sen. Schumer made the remarks during a Sunday debate reported by Marijuana Moment. In minute 57 of the debate, Schumer said he’d been working with Republicans and Democrats to legalize cannabis banking for licensed businesses and approve expungements for marijuana crimes. Sen. Schumer’s opponent Republican Joe Pinion rejected federal cannabis law reforms.

Sen. Schumer is referring to the SAFE Banking Act—a bill to increase cannabis business safety and opportunity by allowing them to use banks. Marijuana remains a schedule 1 drug under federal law, so most banks won’t risk serving the tens of thousands of state-licensed cannabis businesses. Criminals prey on cannabis stores and farms—sometimes injuring or killing employees—due to their inability to put cash in a bank.

Democrats obtained Republican support for the incremental reform, but Sen. Corey Booker killed SAFE Banking this year for not being progressive enough.

Murder changed my mind: Pass the SAFE Banking Act now

Sen. Schumer’s remarks Sunday indicate efforts are underway to add more criminal justice reform to SAFE Banking, aka “SAFE Banking Plus” and get the bill passed.

“It also does some things for justice,” Sen. Schumer said. “Expunging the records is important. So we’re getting closer. I may be able to get something done rather soon. I’m working with a bunch of Republican Senators, a bunch of Democratic Senators to get something passed.”

Pinion rejected current legalization reforms, due to concerns about high-THC products. He said legalization at this point seemed “reckless and irresponsible.” Pinion also promulgated the inaccurate claim that marijuana smokers were dying from accidental fentanyl poisonings. Lab tests do not support such claims.

Over at the White House in October, President Biden pardoned about 6,000 people with federal marijuana possession records and ordered the Department of Justice, as well as the Department of Health and Human Services to quickly review marijuana’s Schedule 1 status.

About 68% of Americans support legalization in theory. More than 90% support medical cannabis legalization. But the question of exactly what is getting legalized, who gets to grow and sell it, tax rates, and other details divide Democrats. Republicans in general remain united around marijuana prohibition. 

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Individual states are not waiting for the federal government. Several have legalized interstate commerce, pending compacts between those state leaders. Interstate cannabis commerce could occur within two years, California Department of Cannabis Control director Nicole Elliott said this month, during a podcast.

Voters in multiple states decide on legalization Nov. 8, with more to come.

The 2022 midterms could result in Republicans taking control of the US House of Representatives, and the Senate. Cannabis activists have criticized the administration and Democrats for failing to energize their base with more substantive marijuana law reforms in the last two years.

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David Downs
David Downs
Leafly Senior Editor David Downs is the former Cannabis Editor of the San Francisco Chronicle. He's appeared on The Today Show, and written for Scientific American, The New York Times, WIRED, Rolling Stone, The Onion A/V Club, High Times, and many more outlets. He is a 2023 judge for The Emerald Cup, and has covered weed since 2009.
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