Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer said Tuesday that he will introduce legislation that would legalize marijuana, and he called it a racial justice issue.
“I believe the time has come to end the federal prohibition on marijuana in this country,” Mr. Schumer said on the Senate floor to mark April 20 or 4/20, the unofficial annual day of celebration for pot smokers.
“The War on Drugs has too often been a war on people: particularly people of color,” said the Democrat from New York, which legalized recreational use of marijuana this month. “For decades, young men and women, disproportionately young men and women of color, have been arrested and jailed for even carrying a small amount of marijuana — a charge that often came with exorbitant penalties and a serious criminal record, from which they might never recover.”
The move will likely please the left as Mr. Schumer faces a potential primary challenge next year from far-left Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York.
Mr. Schumer publicly supported marijuana legalization since at least 2018, though he said his position has changed.
“My thinking on this issue has evolved. A number of states, including very recently my home state of New York, have legalized the recreational use of marijuana for adults and those experiments by and large have been a success,” he said. “The doom and gloom predictions made when states like Colorado or Oregon went forward and decriminalized and legalized never occurred.”
Mr. Schumer isn’t getting help from President Biden on the marijuana front.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters Tuesday that Mr. Biden supports leaving decisions on recreational marijuana use to the states and would like to see more research of its “positive and negative effects.”
“He will look at that research once it is concluded,” she said.
Mr. Schumer also wants to go further than legalizing marijuana. He’s working on legislation with fellow Democrats Sen. Cory A. Booker of New Jersey and Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon that would also “create restorative justice” to roll back previous drug convictions.
The three senators said in a statement in February that their bill would expunge the criminal records of those who have been arrested on pot-related crimes.
“Hopefully, the next time this unofficial holiday of 4/20 rolls around, our country will have made progress in addressing the massive over-criminalization of marijuana in a meaningful and comprehensive way,” Mr. Schumer said.
• Seth McLaughlin contributed to this article.