Schumer’s 4/20 Surprise

Senate minority leader announced plans for marijuana decriminalization legislation in TV interview

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer now supports decriminalizing marijuana. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer is the latest senior Democrat to call for decriminalizing marijuana at the federal level.

Schumer also said that he would support legalization in his home state of New York, in a well-timed interview with VICE News which aired Thursday night.

“My personal view is legalization is just fine,” Schumer said. “The best thing to do is let each state decide on its own.”

That is in line with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who backed a 2016 ballot measure to legalize and regulate cannabis in California.

In an interview Thursday during the network’s “Weed Week” leading up to the annual April 20 (or “4/20”) celebration of cannabis, Schumer said he would soon introduce legislation focused on removing marijuana from the list of federal controlled substances overseen by the Drug Enforcement Administration. That would decriminalize the drug, which would give states more freedom to decide for themselves on regulation.

How to Change Senate Rules, Slowly, With the 'Book of Spells'

The concern about the Justice Department asserting its authority to enforce federal law regarding cannabis is particularly real in states like Colorado, which has a regulated state industry.

Colorado Republican Sen. Cory Gardner announced last week that he had reached an understanding with President Donald Trump that DOJ would not be getting in the way of the marijuana business in his home state, despite the withdrawal of guidance along those lines from then-Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole during the Obama administration.

Perhaps no federal official has been more skeptical of legalizing marijuana over the years than current Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

“I received a commitment from the President that the Department of Justice’s rescission of the Cole memo will not impact Colorado’s legal marijuana industry,” Gardner said in a statement. “Furthermore, President Trump has assured me that he will support a federalism-based legislative solution to fix this states’ rights issue once and for all.”

On it’s face, what Schumer seems to be preparing to introduce lines up well with the intentions of Gardner, who also happens to be chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

VICE asked Schumer about potential electoral effects (including, perhaps, benefits to Democrats) of embracing marijuana.

“I’m doing it because I think it’s the right thing to do. I’ve seen too many people’s lives ruined by the criminalization,” Schumer said in the interview. “If we benefit, so be it. But that’s not my motivation.”

Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call on your iPhone or your Android.