Schumer Says 'My Thinking Evolved' on Marijuana Legalization, Promises Senate Bill 'Soon'

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said he's prepared to bring a marijuana legalization bill to the floor with or without the support of President Joe Biden, ending decades of his own uncertainty toward weed and cannabis.

The Democratic senator from New York, a state that just passed a marijuana legalization bill, told Politico in an interview published Saturday that while his "thinking evolved," he's fully behind federal marijuana legalization efforts. Marijuana is currently listed as a Schedule 1 illicit substance by the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), but Schumer and several other Democratic senators say they will be bring a legalization bill to the Senate floor "shortly." Schumer says he supports both decriminalization and legalization, words he uses interchangeably.

In May 2004, Schumer was given the Guardian Award from the Partnership for a Drug-Free America for his support of stiff drug laws. But a few years back, Schumer told Politico, he was convinced to "see this issue differently" during a visit to Denver.

"A while back—I can't remember the exact year—I was in Denver. I just started talking to people, not just elected officials, but just average folks. [They said] it benefited the state, and [didn't] hurt the state," Schumer said. "There were tax revenues, but people had freedom to do what they wanted to do, as long as they weren't hurting other people. That's part of what America is about. And they were exultant in it."

Today, Schumer holds a "B" rating from the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML).

It is not clear yet if there are 10 Republican senators who would join the 50-50 split Democrats in the Senate in supporting such legislation. Schumer said he's gotten tired of legalization opponents "talking about the parade of horribles: crime would go up, drug use would go up, everything bad would happen."

Schumer tweeted Monday, "The War on Drugs has been a war on people. NY is taking an important step to address its harms. And I am working to end the federal prohibition on marijuana and help communities who have been hurt--especially communities of color."

Schumer said it's his responsibility to put bills on the floor as the Senate Majority Leader, something he plans to do with marijuana legalization with or without the support of the Democratic president.

"[Biden] said he'd like to see more information on the issue. I respect that. I certainly will have an ongoing conversation with him, and tell him how my views evolved. And hope that his will to," Schumer told Politico. "We will move forward. He said he's studying the issue, so [I] obviously want to give him a little time to study it. I want to make my arguments to him, as many other advocates will. But at some point we're going to move forward, period."

Last week, Schumer joined Democratic Senators Cory Booker of New Jersey and Ron Wyden of Oregon in declaring their support for marijuana legalization.

"I support decriminalization at the federal level," Schumer told reporters. "And we'll be introducing legislation with a few of my colleagues shortly...we want to move on this."

Last year, the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act passed the House but stalled out and did not advance under then-Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and the Republican-controlled Senate. Schumer said last month he would try to merge his proposal with past ones, including the MORE Act. Schumer has increasingly used marijuana legalization as one of the Democratic Party's top election selling points and his stance has been welcomed by many progressive lawmakers including Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders.

"I am personally for legalization. And the bill that we'll be introducing is headed in that direction," Schumer said, adding that the timeline on the bill is "what I said: soon."

Newsweek reached out to the New York senator's office for any additional remarks about marijuana legalization Saturday.

Chuck Schumer before a virtual meeting
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer vowed to bring a marijuana legalization bill to the Senate floor "soon," with or without backing from President Joe Biden. Tasos Katopodis/Getty