As Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) plans to introduce a highly anticipated cannabis legalization bill, he met with several marijuana advocacy groups to discuss social equity problems. Representatives of the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), Cannabis Regulators of Color Coalition (CRCC), Immigrant Defense Project, Women Grow, VOCAL-NY, and Rochester NORML all attended the virtual meeting to share their thoughts and hear from the majority leader.
Schumer hosted the Zoom meeting last Tuesday, and the subjects ranged from immigration issues about cannabis, marijuana banking, and New York’s implementation of adult-use cannabis. Attendees said that Schumer was vague about when he would roll out filing the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act (CAOA), characterizing it as “soon.” He has not given a specific timeline as of yet.
Schumer has caught heat for this lack of a timeline, and he spoke about his thought process behind a hesitation to file quickly to the attendees. Schumer cited that he and his colleagues feel the need to guarantee an effective equity program. The majority leader wants any program to be robust before the act potentially goes to committees to be decided on. According to a participant, a Schumer staffer said they want to move “as fast as possible without screwing this up.”
Advocates have also been frustrated by Schumer’s position that sweeping reform is needed before additional, smaller steps are taken to protect banks that work with state marijuana companies. By refusing to add incremental reform to larger bills, marijuana proponents argue that he is holding back public safety regarding banking reform. However, in this meeting, Schumer purportedly indicated that he would be open to making small policy changes as long as equity plans were added to them.
Maritza Perez, the director of national affairs for the DPA, also attended the meeting. Her views align with Shumers concerning reforms, and she was pleased that Schumer “understands that social equity must be intentional and a key part of any marijuana bill that moves forward in Congress.” Perez also added that DPA “looks forward to continuing to work with his office on a comprehensive marijuana bill that provides restitution to people and communities most devastated by marijuana prohibition.”
Attendees of the Zoom call met the meeting with positive reactions. Shaleen Title, the vice-chair of the CRR, told Marijuana Moment that “Sen. Schumer has consistently stood with small and minority-owned businesses. We were glad to share hard-earned lessons for how Congress can ensure that the communities most impacted by the war on drugs are set up for success.”
On Twitter, Schumer described the meetings as an “exciting meeting on social equity in federal marijuana reform. We’re working to end the prohibition & ensure equity for communities impacted by the War on Drugs—[especially] communities of color.”
As cannabis proponents eagerly await the introduction of the CAOA, it is a bright sign that Schumer has shown a passion and assurance that social equity will be at the forefront of his act. Many states have failed to implement truly equitable programs, and it is imperative to reform advocates that any federal act has a strong social equity plan attached to it. To not make the same mistakes several states have, it is crucial to work with reform and advocacy groups. Schumer’s willingness to do so was on full display on Zoom.
Minorities and those disproportionately affected by cannabis laws deserve support and funding for opening dispensaries and offering minority-owned pre-rolls, glass pieces, flowers, and more. As long as Schumer and other lawmakers continue to work with organizations like those at the meeting, advocates can hope to see a solid federal equity program.