Blowing Smoke: The U.S. Senate waffles on pot decriminalization despite state-level legalization and popular support

The U.S. House of Representatives has passed the SAFE Banking Act four times and voters around the country have been supporting measures to legalize the use of recreational and medical cannabis, but efforts to decriminalize marijuana at the federal level continue to stall out.

While the Safe Banking Act went to the U.S. Senate on April 20 (the big 4/20 stoner holiday), it's not likely to go much further, given Republican recalcitrance and Democratic hedging.

During the run-up to the 2020 election—which Donald Trump lost by more than 7 million votes—then vice-presidential candidate Kamala Harris, who as a senator was a co-sponsor of an earlier version of SAFE, said marijuana decriminalization was a priority for a Biden-Harris administration.

But Harris recently backtracked, stating that the administration is too busy cleaning up after the former occupant of the Whitehouse to focus on it.

"Honestly, right now, we've been focused on getting people food, helping them stay in their apartments or in their homes, getting kids back to school, getting shots into arms," Harris told the San Francisco Chronicle. "That has been all-consuming."

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, whose home state of New York legalized recreational weed last month, is still a vocal advocate for federal legalization. At last weekend's NYC Cannabis Parade & Rally, he called U.S. pot laws "bigoted" and promised to continue the fight to legalize on a national level.

To that end, Schumer has joined with Senators Cory Booker (D-New Jersey) and Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) to create a comprehensive legalization bill they expect to introduce sometime in the near future.

In February, the trio issued a joint statement: "The War on Drugs has been a war on people—particularly people of color. Ending the federal marijuana prohibition is necessary to right the wrongs of this failed war and end decades of harm inflicted on communities of color across the country. But that alone is not enough. As states continue to legalize marijuana, we must also enact measures that will lift up people who were unfairly targeted in the War on Drugs."

Biden's position on cannabis legalization has evolved over the years since his Senate days when he was Reefer-Madness-level against it.

"The president supports leaving decisions regarding legalization for recreational use up to the states, rescheduling cannabis as a Schedule II drug so researchers can study its positive and negative impacts and, at the federal level, he supports decriminalizing marijuana use and automatically expunging any prior criminal records," White House spokesperson Jen Psaki recently said.

But rescheduling is not descheduling, and if pot is not removed from the list of "controlled substances," it will continue to be treated with the same prosecutorial fervor as cocaine or heroin on a federal level.

And without the passage of the SAFE Act or federal legalization, states with social equity programs will likely not hit intended targets, as access to capital would be difficult for minority business owners, women business owners and people attempting to operate smaller businesses.

April polls conducted by both Quinnipiac University and Pew Research show overwhelming nationwide support for cannabis legalization and for the drug to be treated the same way as alcohol.

Quinnipiac reports that overall 69% of Americans are in favor of full legalization as opposed to 25% against. That support crosses political lines, with 78% of Democrats, 62% of Republicans and 67% of independents favoring legalization.

Pew Research reports 60% overall in favor of medical or recreational and 31% for medical use only.

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