Chuck Schumer's Cannabis Conversion Illustrates Democrats' Shameful Hesitance

Voters are much more likely to support legalization than the politicians who supposedly represent them.


DCA/Michael Carpenter / WENN / Newscom

Today Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer announced that he will introduce legislation aimed at repealing the federal ban on marijuana by removing it from the list of controlled substances. The New York Democrat, who telegraphed his plan in a Vice interview that aired last night, says "there's no better time than the present to get this done."

I disagree. The past would have been a much better time. Schumer's cannabis conversion—which comes after that of former House Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican who not long ago was describing himself as "unalterably opposed" to legalization—is embarrassingly tardy. Democratic politicians like Schumer have always been lagging indicators of public opinion on this issue, especially compared to rank-and-file members of their own party.

According to the most recent Gallup poll, 64 percent of Americans think marijuana should be legal. That includes 51 percent of Republicans and 72 percent of Democrats. Opposition to pot prohibition first broke 50 percent in 2011, when 57 percent of Democrats thought marijuana should be legal. But Schumer, like most Democrats in Congress, has been biding his time.

Schumer, who was honored as a "Guardian of a Drug-Free America" by the Partnership for a Drug-Free America in 2004, brags that has "spent his legislative career supporting local law enforcement" and "working to keep drugs off our streets." That includes pseudoephedrine, a cheap and effective allergy medication that Schumer targeted for restriction because it can be used to make methamphetamine, as well as myriad synthetic drugs covered by federal bans that Schumer has championed. The dedicated drug warrior also has supported longer sentences for meth offenses.

Given that background, it's not surprising that Schumer came late to the marijuana reform movement. In 2014, two years after voters in Colorado and Washington approved legalization, Schumer affirmed that states should be allowed to adopt that policy, although he was not sure it was a good idea. "It's a tough issue," he said on MSNBC. "We talk about the comparison to alcohol, and obviously alcohol is legal and I'm hardly a prohibitionist, but it does a lot of damage. The view I have, and I'm a little cautious on this, is let's see how the state experiments work." In 2015, nearly two decades after California became the first state to legalize medical use of cannabis, Schumer backed the CARERS Act, which would eliminate federal penalties for conduct that complies with state medical marijuana laws.

The bill Schumer plans to introduce would extend that accommodation to states where marijuana is legal for recreational use, although the feds could still prosecute people for bringing marijuana into states where it remains illegal. It is not the first bill with that aim.

In 2011 Reps. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) and Ron Paul (R-Texas) introduced the Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act, which would repeal the federal ban except as it relates to interstate smuggling. The latest version has 33 cosponsors, including 27 Democrats.

The Respect State Marijuana Laws Act, first introduced by Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) in 2013, would make the marijuana provisions of the Controlled Substances Act inapplicable to "any person acting in compliance with State laws relating to the production, possession, distribution, dispensation, administration, or delivery of marihuana." The latest version has 45 cosponsors, including 31 Democrats.

In 2015 Bernie Sanders, the first major-party presidential candidate to endorse marijuana legalization, became the first U.S. senator to propose a bill repealing the federal ban on marijuana. His Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act attracted zero cosponsors. Last year Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) introduced the Marijuana Justice Act, which like Schumer's planned bill would deschedule cannabis. It has attracted three cosponsors: Sanders, Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.).

Democrats in the Senate have been especially reluctant to come out against federal marijuana prohibition. But even in the House, just 16 percent of the Democratic caucus is on record as favoring federal accommodation of state legalization via Rohrabacher's bill. By comparison, 81 percent of Democrats in a recent Quinnipiac University poll opposed federal interference with legalization, and 70 percent went further, saying they supported legalization.

"The time has come to decriminalize marijuana," Schumer says. "It's simply the right thing to do." In the Vice interview, Schumer said it's all about "freedom." After all, he said, "If smoking marijuana doesn't hurt anybody else, why shouldn't we allow people to do it and not make it criminal?"

Never mind that Schumer, a paternalistic busybody if there ever was one, does not seem inclined to extend that principle to many other issues, or that he insisted "I'm hardly a prohibitionist" while backing indiscriminate bans on new psychoactive substances. This guy has been alive since 1950 and in Congress since 1981, and apparently it is only now occurring to him that maybe people should not be clapped in handcuffs and locked in cages for growing, selling, or consuming a plant.

"I've seen too many people's lives ruined by the criminalization," Schumer told Vice. Many fewer lives would have been ruined if political hacks like Schumer had come around sooner. Schumer's own account suggests that he recognized the terrible consequences of marijuana prohibition for years before he did anything about it. So yeah, better late than never, but not much.

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  1. Politicians are always behind on social change. They clamor to pass laws for things the public already supports. That is why government regulation is unnecessary. If the public already supports a social change, the market can implement it.

    1. See, now you are justifying government as the only way to get California a high speed rail boondoggle. You guys are never satisfied.

      1. You talking about that giant gerbil tube Musk is building with the money from hapless CA taxpayers? Joke is on them. It’s just an excuse to practice his tunneling skills before he leaves for Mars.

        1. No, the mid-fashioned one, more modern than dirty coal-burning steamers, less modern than that tuby thing which will kill all its passengers.

          1. I’m making over $7k a month working part time. I kept hearing other people tell me how much money they can make online so I decided to look into it. Well, it was all true and has totally changed my life.

            This is what I do…

          2. I’m making over $7k a month working part time. I kept hearing other people tell me how much money they can make online so I decided to look into it. Well, it was all true and has totally changed my life.

            This is what I do…

    2. Schumer should go down for human trafficking: shamelessly pimping himself out to a fickle electorate. This is what democracy looks like.

  2. I assume Schumer is afraid that Trump would beat the Dems to the finish line on this issue. And that Schumer and company have wrung as much money out of prohibition that they were going to get. And that Schumer sniffed some extra camera time on a not-so-new public policy issue.

  3. Shameful Hesitance was my nickname on prom night.

    1. Pegging brings that out in all of us.

  4. Nice photo-bombing deserves some alt-text.

  5. His Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act attracted zero cosponsors.

    That’s because he didn’t give it a catchy acronym. EFMPA? Come on!

    1. Eff my pa? Is this a subtle dig by Schumer at his dad for being disappointed that his beloved son decided to become a power whore?

      1. EFMPA was Bernie Sanders’s attempt, so you can imagine.

    2. You are exactly right. It needs to be the CHILD-SAFE act.

      Canabis Healthcare and Industries Liberalization Delineation and Safety for America Federal Enactment act.

      That fits right in with the strained and completely antithetical acronyms our lawmakers give us. Yes, I’m looking at you USA PATRIOT act. Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act… pbbbt. Bite my shiny metal…

  6. The politicians are even more behind on this issue than they were on gay marriage. Obama painting the White House in rainbow light to celebrate the USOC bringing us gay marriage was particularly bad, since he never supported gay marriage before it became the law of the land, and publicly opposed it long after support had passed opposition. Even worse, his surrogates now say that he was always in favor of gay marriage, he just felt it was a losing position to take during the campaign.

    So now we have hacks like Shumer running around telling us that they are for legalization as support for that issue tops 2:1 in the polls. Wow, way to lead. You are only a decade late to standing up just after it starts becoming legalized. Taking this position in 2012 wouldn’t have been politically courageous. But he’s looking for hero status in 2018?

    A real liberal/progressive on this issue would stand against any policy that outlaws getting high. That is where the real problem lies. As long as we continue to accept that preventing people from getting high is a laudable goal, we will keep creeping down the wrong road.

    1. A real liberal, i.e. a proponent of human freedom, yes. A real progressive, i.e. a proponent of government molding people into whatever form best suits society (as defined by that government) – probably not.

      1. I was attempting to use the term(s) as Shumer would do to describe himself – kind of a poke in the eye from the actual liberals over here on the end of the group W bench.

    2. Polls also are why Clinton got impeached but not convicted, and polling also explains all those Democrats voting for a big dose of Iraqi Freedom. Every one of those politicians will tell you they don’t care about polls. Which is a lie of course, which is of course what politicians are expected to do. At least according to the polls.

  7. “Voters are much more likely to support legalization than the politicians who supposedly represent them.”

    And that’s why he supports legalization.

    Shortly after Wallace made his infamous, “Segregation today, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever!” speech, he searched his heart and changed his mind.

    Well, his heart may or may not have anything to do with it, but segregation became massively unpopular, and if he wanted a national career, he had to repudiate segregation in no uncertain terms.

    Schumer’s changer of heart on cannabis is the same thing. There are two important things for libertarians to learn from this.

    1) The libertarian politicians we need are already in congress.

    Once we change the hearts and minds of our politicians’ constituents, they’ll either get on board or get trampled.

    2) Change comes from the bottom up.

    Change does not come from politicians. They’re almost always the last on board. Politicians are neither the cause of nor the solution to our problems. The cause of our problems is what’s in the heads of the American people, and the solution is to change their minds.

    1. Politicians are neither the cause of nor the solution to our problems.

      They’re more often than not the cause of our problems.

      1. If it weren’t for what’s in the American people’s heads, . . .

        They’re the symptom, not the disease. They’re actually doing what a critical mass of the American public wants.

        Solve the problem of what’s in the American people’s heads, and the symptoms go away.

    2. They’re not supposed to act on their own opinions. They’d be violating the spirit of democracy if they did.

  8. Schumer’s own account suggests that he recognized the terrible consequences of marijuana prohibition for years before he did anything about it. So yeah, better late than never, but not much.

    In other words, he played politics. Unlike hippie Democrats out west, northeast Democrats have long favored a “tough on crime” image that includes being drug warriors. In the unlikely event he wasn’t really a drug warrior all this time, local politics would have prevented him from expressing it anyway. Well, not if he wanted to keep his job.

  9. Very few pols will jump in front until the parade forms. Let’s celebrate their finally having done so, and keep working to from other large parades.

    1. Pretty amazing if Schumer, of all people, is the first sitting senator to try to jump in front of this parade.

  10. Schumer said it’s all about “freedom.” After all, he said, “If smoking marijuana doesn’t hurt anybody else, why shouldn’t we allow people to do it and not make it criminal?”

    Said thousands of people told they can’t stand within 20′ of an entrance, or outdoors in a public park trying to smoke a fucking cigarette.

  11. Maybe something changed lately, but I thought that any substance on the schedule one fed shit list for stuff had to ‘have no medical use’. Since our good friend the devil weed has great medicinal properties, the feds are bound by law to remove it from the ‘bad boy list of things you can’t have’.
    So Chuckles is trying to get face time on the tubes by introducing a law that requires the feds to follow the (existing) law?

    Really, folks, you can’t make this up.

    1. You’re assuming the federal government has acknowledged the medical properties of weed, which it most certainly has not.

      1. It makes you high, how is that not a medical property?

        1. That’s exactly my point, and it is one of the problems with the camel’s nose under the tent strategy that pot legalization forces have used. It worked, it started a conversation, but it leads to a world where it has to be of medical value to have some merit.

          We need to get ourselves OK with the notion that people like to get high, and we need to tell people who think it is OK to use force to prevent others from getting high where to step off.

    2. the feds are bound by law to remove it

      I don’t think that’s accurate.

  12. “If smoking marijuana doesn’t hurt anybody else, why shouldn’t we allow people to do it and not make it criminal?”

    Easy, Chuck. Because if just one person hurts xirself by smoking it ….

    1. Think of the children!!!

      …No, not like that!!

    2. If he really doesn’t know the answer to this, why exactly has he been a drug warrior for 40 years?

      Also – why is he not coming out for the legalization of all schedule III drugs? They all come under the heading of “doesn’t hurt anybody else”.

      1. They are legal they just are regulated and require prescription. So are antibiotics although less regulated

  13. Schemer … brags that has “spent his legislative career supporting local law enforcement” and “working to keep drugs off our streets.”

    “Re-elect Marion Barry. He got drugs off our streets.”

    1. Gotta love the auto-correct on this one. 😎

  14. What a pissy article in response a very positive development. He’s the leader of the Democratic party and he’s calling for national decriminalization. Agreed that it’s way past due, but for fuck’s sake people.

  15. If Mitch McConnell said this you’d all queue up to give his chins a loving motorboat. I hate all of you.

    1. Uh, I think the former (R) speaker did this just a week ago, to a resounding guffaw from Reason.

      If you deal with people as they are instead of the straw men your imagination creates, you’ll be a lot more successful and have more happiness in your life.

      1. So why are we bitching about an unalloyed positive development on one of libertarian’s signature issues?

        1. For the same reason they were critical of Boehner, these are politicians who have been defenders of prohibition for years. We welcome them and their political influence to the cause, of course, but that doesn’t mean we’re gonna throw them a parade.

      2. Plenty of ex-politicians have joined this bandwagon.

  16. OT, but here’s another law story for you Reason writers. You can’t let this story pass without at least some notice. The stupid HBO movie, Paterno, starring Al Pacino, just came out. Newsweek just chickened out on the biggest crime story of the millennium. This story was by John Ziegler and Ralph Cipriano, both serious journalists. The whole story is hiding in plain site at Ziegler’s site:

    I know, it looks like a conspiracy site, but look at some of the links, podcasts, videos. Reason likes to talk about new types of media. There’s never been anything like this! This is a, I don’t know, … a multimedia reality miniseries. It’s still happening in real time. You can go on Twitter (John Ziegler @Zigmanfreud) and participate! I challenge you to find anything on cable like this. Here’s the spiked Newsweek piece:…..ast-moment

    Hey, Reason commenters. Don’t let this story pass your favorite magazine by. Here’s your chance to make a big splash again. All memories of the last time you’ve done anything like this have long gone down the wood chipper.

    1. John Ziegler has stunted his career by pursuing truth and justice on this case. Former Reason writer, Cathy Young has noticed: status/969710763551191040

    2. There’s even a nice Reason hook. When Tim Cavenaugh first wrote about this for Reason, he said:

      Criminal accusations generally, sex accusations broadly and child-related accusations specifically are prone to witchmob kangaroo hunts, and Sandusky has not been convicted of any crime.…..ting-moral

  17. I expect a lot of politicians to jump on the weed bandwagon just to pick up a few votes. I am not fully convenst that is is the best to fully uncontrol it but I do think that should be a lot more research especially for medical use but I could be convinced.

    1. A bit late to ask, but why would you be opposed to using pot to get high? Not personally, but as a matter of law. Why is it OK to outlaw getting high, except if you use alcohol? It seems rather incoherent.

    2. We don’t care what you are “convenst” of. It should be legalized with all due haste. This century of banning stuff over morality instead of based on merit needs to end. The War on Drugs was a complete failure and didn’t nothing to slow it down. People are going to do drugs. Not me, because I’m not that fucking stupid, but the regulars are going to do drugs and I’m tired of paying for prisons to hold them.

  18. The drug war, perhaps begun in the belief that it would actually reduce abuse, soon became a pretext to hold down minorities and the poor. In a traffic stop, all the arresting officer needs to do to make it a “drug arrest” is to say “I smell pot”. If pot were legal and regulated, like beer or tobacco, that could not happen.

    1. Well if it holds down minorities by all means extend it.

  19. The reason Chucky dragged his feet on this is that he’s an authoritarian piece of shit, and the War on Drugs provides the pretext for billions of routine violations of our constitutional rights every year.


  20. The only intelligent thing to come from a dem in a decade.

  21. I guess this is a reason to vote republican? They’ve been so much more responsive to public opinion on matters like this.

  22. Not far enough. Non-violent pot offenders need to be relesed from prison, and compensated for all the weed they missed out on smoking and selling.

    Contrition, you bastards!

  23. Now Chuck needs to discover the error of his ways on firearms.

  24. Lol could you have found a worse picture of him?

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