May 1, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Schumer's marijuana moment

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) speaks after the Senate passed a foreign aid bill at the U.S. Capitol on April 23, 2024 in Washington, DC.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) speaks after the Senate passed a foreign aid bill at the U.S. Capitol on April 23, 2024 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)

Senate Democrats are making a very public push this week to get marijuana legislation through the chamber, blaming Republicans for blocking progress on the bills.

Why it matters: Federal cannabis reform is a popular issue for young voters, a bloc that Democrats are facing issues with as the 2024 election approaches.

  • Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and his caucus are elevating a bill that would allow banks to lend to the cannabis industry in states where it is legal.
  • Schumer and two other Democrats on Wednesday also introduced a bill that would end the federal prohibition on marijuana.

Driving the news: The Biden administration on Tuesday recommended that marijuana be reclassified as a drug that has medicinal value and put into a less dangerous category.

  • "It's time for Congress to wake up to the times and do its part by passing the cannabis reform that most Americans have long called for," Schumer said Wednesday on the Senate floor.
  • The Senate Democratic push on the cannabis legislation was planned before the news broke that the White House was moving to declassify the drug, a source familiar with the planning told Axios.

Democrats have tried to attach the banking bill to a must-pass reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), but top Senate Republicans are opposed to the move.

  • A spokesperson for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said the Republican leader "continues to oppose marijuana banking."
  • Senate Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) said at a press conference Wednesday that it looks like "the Senate Republicans are just closing the door to everything" when asked if the cannabis banking bill would be attached to the FAA legislation.
  • McConnell's opposition puts him at odds with the four Senate Republicans who have cosponsored the bill.

Zoom in: Federal marijuana reform has been a part of Schumer's legacy.

  • He is the first Senate majority leader to call for an end to the federal prohibition on marijuana.
  • He has been perhaps the highest-ranking voice on Capitol Hill calling for changes.

Zoom out: The push for cannabis bills also comes as Democrats are struggling with young voters ahead of the 2024 election and in the midst of protests over the war in Gaza.

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