Sen. Chuck Schumer Wants to Decriminalize Cannabis. Here’s Why.

(HBO)

Last week, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) helped America celebrate 4/20 by announcing his plan to introduce legislation that would “decriminalize marijuana from one end of the country to the other.” He later sat down with VICE News’ Shawna Thomas to discuss the forthcoming bill. Here are five takeaways from the conversation.

“The legislation is long overdue. I’ve seen too many people’s lives ruined.”
Sen. Chuck Schumer

Schumer Wants to Get the Federal Government out of the Cannabis Prohibition Business

“If smoking marijuana doesn’t hurt anybody else, why shouldn’t we allow people to do it and not make it criminal?” said Schumer, noting that his proposed legislation would “allow the states to decide. There will be no federal agents or anything like that.” (The one arena where feds may still play a prosecutorial role: interstate shipping of cannabis—specifically, from a legal state to a non-legal one.)

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Legal Cannabis’ Track Record Inspired His Pro-Cannabis Shift

“I studied the issue and we’ve now had some evidence—the state of Washington, other states—where [legalization’s] done lots of good and no harm. Justice Brandeis said ‘Let the states be laboratories.’ Now we’ve had a few states, we’ve had a few laboratories, the experiment’s been a success. Let’s nationalize it.”

For Schumer, Decriminalization Is About Social Justice and Common Sense

“The legislation is long overdue,” Schumer told VICE. “I’ve seen too many people’s lives ruined because they had small amounts of marijuana and served time in jail much too long. It affects communities of color disproportionately and unfairly, and ultimately, it’s the right thing to do…But it’s also practical: When so many people are incarcerated, and not out there being productive citizens of society, that matters to the whole country.”

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His Proposed Legislation Won’t Concern Itself With Righting Prohibition’s Wrongs

Despite Schumer’s social justice aims, his proposed legislation won’t concern itself with righting prohibition’s wrongs. (He’s leaving that up to Cory Booker’s Marijuana Justice Act.)

“There are two paths here,” said Schumer. “One path is decriminalization of marijuana at the federal level—that’s what we’re introducing. There’s another path already being pursued in a bipartisan way by people like Sen. Booker and Sen. Durbin, which is criminal justice reform, which I also support, but that’s a different track for people who have been unfairly punished.”

There’s No Ulterior Motive to His Support for Legalization

“Are you just doing this to piss Jeff Sessions off?” asked VICE’s Shawna Thomas. “That would be a benefit but I hadn’t thought about it,” replied Schumer with a laugh.

Watch the full VICE News interview here: