April 20 (aka 420) was an exceptionally fine day this year. Not because folks far and wide came together to celebrate all things cannabis—though we can agree this is a good thing. What set this day apart from past 420s was New York Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer’s introduction of a bill proposing the decriminalization of marijuana on the federal level.
What’s essentially an about-face for Senate Minority Leader Schumer, who once advocated for federal drug prohibition, this key piece of legislation would remove marijuana from the list of scheduled substances that classifies cannabis as a Schedule 1 drug on the same level as LSD and heroin.
Schumer’s bill would also set up funding for women- and minority-owned marijuana businesses and allow for more research on the impact that legalized cannabis consumption will have on the general public. And similar to regulations made in the tobacco and alcohol industries, it would ensure the federal government’s authority to regulate commercial advertising of the plant.
In an interview with Vice News, Schumer said, “This legislation is long overdue. [Criminalizing marijuana] affects communities of color disproportionately and unfairly. And ultimately, [decriminalizing cannabis is] the right thing to do. … Let each state decide on its own, and that’s what this bill allows.”
When asked in the same interview why he’d changed his mind, Schumer replied, “I’ve studied the issue, and we now have some evidence—state of Washington, other states—where [legalized marijuana] has done lots of good and no harm. … Crime did not spike any place. There’s no evidence that young people are using drugs of any type more. The [gateway] issue hasn’t proven to be true, so it all makes sense. So when you get evidence, act on it.”
Gov. Cuomo Not Yet Fully on Board With Recreational Cannabis Legalization
Meanwhile, at the state level, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo recently released details on what his adult-use marijuana legalization study will focus on. Key steps will include analysis of:
- Peer-reviewed literature on regulated marijuana
- The state’s experience with illicit marijuana use
- The impact of regulated cannabis in other states
No timeline has been given as to when the study will start and end. But perhaps New York gubernatorial challenger Cynthia Nixon will put the fire to Gov. Cuomo’s feet, getting the governor to push the Department of Health to complete this study with all due speed. Nixon has been vocal about making the legalization of adult-use marijuana a key pillar of her platform.
If New York Public Advocate Letitia James has her way, recreational marijuana will be legalized by year’s end. She’s vowed to work with Gov. Cuomo to achieve this goal.
James told the New York Post: “I don’t see how you can call yourself someone progressive, a leader of the city of New York, and not come out or at least consider the prospect of legalizing marijuana given the adverse impact on communities of color.”
With 64% of all Americans now in favor of marijuana’s legalization, according to an October 2017 Gallup poll, it would make sense for Gov. Cuomo to finally come around on his opposition to cannabis. If he doesn’t, it could cost him his bid for re-election this year.
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