Drugs

WATCH: Chuck Schumer Is Ready to Legalize Marijuana

The Senate minority leader's proposal would send federal pot prohibition up in smoke.

Photo Credit: C-SPAN2

The Senate's highest-ranking Democrat is letting his freak flag fly. In a Thursday night interview with VICE News, Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) announced he is crafting legislation that would result in the effective end of federal marijuana prohibition.

Schumer has previously supported medical marijuana and allowing states the right to experiment with legalization, but this would be a radical shift in federal drug policy.

The New York senator isn't the first high-profile Democrat to embrace marijuana legalization—2020 presidential contenders Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), and Bernie Sanders (I-VT) are all on board—but he is the Senate minority leader. He could be the Senate majority leader next year (a longshot) or in 2021, and having a friendly majority leader means a legalization bill actually moves in the Senate.  

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"Ultimately, it’s the right thing to do. Freedom," he told VICE News' Shawna Thomas. "If smoking marijuana doesn’t hurt anybody else, why shouldn’t we allow people to do it and not make it criminal?" Schumer said.

The legislation should be unveiled within the next week and has four main points:

1. Remove (or deschedule) marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act, ending federal marijuana prohibition and leaving pot laws up to the states.

2. Provide assistance to encourage minority and woman-owned marijuana businesses.

3. Provide funding for research on marijuana's effects, especially on driving impairment.

4. Maintain federal authority to regulate marijuana advertising like alcohol and tobacco.

Not only does Schumer now support leaving it to the states, he supports legalizing it in his own state.

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

Marijuana could be a winning issue for Democrats this November and in 2020. The latest Gallup poll had support for legalization at a record high 64%. But Schumer said legalizing pot wasn't about politics.

"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," he said. "If we benefit, so be it. But that’s not my motivation."

He even told Thomas that while he had never smoked weed before, he might give it a try. "Maybe, I’m a little old, but who knows?"

Watch the interview:

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Phillip Smith has been a drug policy journalist for the past two decades. Smith is currently a senior writing fellow at the Independent Media Institute