Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) wants to keep the “big boys” out of the marijuana industry in favor of creating opportunities for smaller operators when cannabis is federally legalized, and he says that his upcoming bill would accomplish that.
In a conversation between Schumer and New York’s top state cannabis regulator that was hosted on Black Enterprise’s marijuana vertical, the majority leader talked about modeling federal reform legislation after the state’s recently enacted marijuana law, with a particular focus on social equity.
“We’re taking a page from New York’s book and trying to do basically what you did nationally,” he told former Democratic Assemblywoman Tremaine Wright, who now chairs the state’s Cannabis Control Board. “What it will do is ensure that Americans in all communities won’t be arrested or barred from receiving services for using cannabis where it’s legal because the state’s making legal.”
Schumer emphasized in the Green Entrepreneur interview that the bill he’s working on alongside Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) is being designed with small businesses in mind.
“We don’t want the big boys to come in,” he said. “After all the pain that’s been occurring in communities like the one you represent in Brooklyn, where I’m from—to have the big boys come in and make all the money makes no sense.”
He’s made similar remarks in the past, stressing that his reform bill will take specific steps to restrict the ability of large alcohol and tobacco companies to overtake the industry.
The majority leader also talked about the distribution of tax revenue from marijuana sales under his Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act (CAOA).
“We’re going to make sure that the money that’s made doesn’t just go into the federal treasury, but goes into good kinds of activities in terms of restorative justice, dealing with community violence initiatives and dealing with so many other things—community centers and things that will have kids have a great place to go and some hope so they won’t get caught up by the drug dealers and anybody else.”
Also in the conversation, Schumer addressed the elephant in the room: Can a comprehensive legalization bill actually pass in Congress?
“The answer is yes,” he said. “First, we’re getting some Republican support in the country. And second, the country is realizing that all the myths about marijuana are just that myths. I think we’ve got a real shot. We’re gonna keep working at it till we get it.”
Not everyone is so confident, however. And many industry stakeholders have made the case that leadership should advance more modest, bipartisan reform to simply protect banks that service state-legal cannabis businesses first since it arguably stands a stronger chance of passage.
Schumer said in September, however, that he and his colleagues have an “agreement” that the body will not take up cannabis banking legislation until more comprehensive legislation moves.
That said, he’s open to exploring an alternative way of advancing banking reform if lawmakers are able to incorporate social equity provisions of legalization—such as expungements for prior cannabis convictions—into separate defense policy legislation that the chamber will be taking up soon.
While the senator has previously expressed reluctance to advancing marijuana banking reform first—including in an interview with Marijuana Moment in April—the recent statement about an “agreement” to block the financial services reform put the situation in starkest terms yet.
Meanwhile, several Republican members of Congress introduced a bill on Monday to federally legalize and tax marijuana as an alternative to pending far-reaching, Democratic-led reform proposals and scaled-down GOP cannabis descheduling legislation.
Beyond the Schumer bill, there’s also legalization legislation that cleared the House Judiciary Committee in September.