Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) held a meeting with a variety of marijuana reform and other advocacy groups last week to discuss social equity issues as he prepares to introduce a much-anticipated cannabis legalization bill this year.

While activists involved in the Tuesday meeting told Marijuana Moment that Schumer again gave vague details about the timeline for filing the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act (CAOA), saying it will be done “soon,” he did say that he also expects committee hearings to follow after its introduction.

Marijuana banking, immigration issues related to cannabis and the implementation of New York’s adult-use marijuana program were also discussed at the Zoom meeting, which lasted a little under an hour.

Schumer characterized the discussion as an “exciting meeting on social equity in federal marijuana reform” in a tweet on Friday. “We’re working to end the prohibition & ensure equity for communities impacted by the War on Drugs—[especially] communities of color.”

Representatives of the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), Cannabis Regulators of Color Coalition (CRCC), Immigrant Defense Project, Women Grow, VOCAL-NY and Rochester NORML participated.

“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,” Shaleen Title, who attended as vice chair of CRCC, told Marijuana Moment.

(Disclosure: Title supports Marijuana Moment’s work through a monthly pledge on Patreon.)

The majority leader also acknowledged in the discussion that he’s received some criticism from advocates over how long it’s taken to file his legalization bill, but he and his Senate colleagues feel it’s important to take their time to ensure that equity is effectively incorporated into the legislation before it begins the committee process.

A Schumer staffer at the meeting described the plan as “moving as fast as possible without screwing this up,” according to one participant who did not wish to be named.

The senator also recognized that in his home state of New York, where regulators are in the process of implementing a commercial, adult-use market, the system will not be comprehensively equitable until federal prohibition is lifted.

The leader also weighed in on another issue that he’s caught flack from advocates over: his insistence that comprehensive reform should be enacted first before taking the incremental step of passing a bipartisan bill to simply protect banks that work with state-legal cannabis businesses.

That position has frustrated some advocates and stakeholders who feel that enacting the banking reform is a politically achievable step that could promote public safety by allowing marijuana businesses to stop dealing in largely cash-based transactions that make them targets of crime. Most recently, Schumer was blamed for keeping the incremental reform out of a large-scale defense bill following bicameral negotiations.

In last week’s meeting, however, the leader again signaled that he’d be open to advancing the more modest policy change if certain equity provisions would attached to it, for example providing incentives for minority deposit institutions or community development facilities to promote commercial lending—a topic that CRCC chair Dasheeda Dawson also discussed in a recent op-ed for Marijuana Moment.

“CRCC believes that any cannabis reform bill that moves forward should be centered in equity and justice, beginning with dismantling the drug war, repairing its impact, and preventing monopolies and oligopolies,” Title said. “We made suggestions based on our experience as state regulators, including stressing the importance of access to capital as well as enforcement and watchdog-like tools to ensure equity measures are implemented as intended.”

Maritza Perez, director of national affairs for DPA, told Marijuana Moment that at the meeting Schumer made clear that he “understands that social equity must be intentional and a key part of any marijuana bill that moves forward in Congress,” and her organization “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.”

Late last year, Schumer emphasized that he 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 said that his upcoming bill would accomplish that.

“We don’t want the big boys to come in,” he said at the time. “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.

Schumer said in September that he and his colleagues have an “agreement” that the body will not take up cannabis banking legislation until more comprehensive legislation moves.

Congressman Files New Marijuana Banking Reform Amendment To Large-Scale House Bill

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