On Friday, the House voted to legalize marijuana on a federal level and allow for the expungement of some marijuana offenses.
Why it matters
The legislation would drastically alter US drug policy and the decades-long war on drugs, bringing the country in line with states that have legalized marijuana.
In 2020, the House passed the same bill, but it stalled in the Republican-controlled Senate.
The bill passed the House with a vote of 220-204.
Reps. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), Tom McClintock (R-Calif.), and Brian Mast (R-Illinois) joined all but two Democrats in voting for the bill (R-Fla.)
The Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act would remove marijuana from the schedule of controlled narcotics, making it illegal to grow, sell, or possess the drug.
It would also set up a procedure for expunging non-violent marijuana offenses and reviewing offenders’ criminal penalties.
Finally, it would allow the government to provide loans to cannabis firms and impose a tax on cannabis goods, with proceeds going toward initiatives to help those who have been “adversely impacted by the War on Drugs.”
“There are so many discussions that have gone on over the years about the use of marijuana or cannabis or whatever,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said at a press conference on Thursday. “The fact is, it’s being used.”
She argued that Congress has a responsibility to “address how it is treated legally, and not in a way that mistreats people on the lower-income scale.”
“So it’s a fact of life that needed appropriate public policy to address it.”
According to a Gallup poll released in November of last year, the big picture, 68 percent of Americans now support full marijuana legalization, up from 34% in 2001.
Democrats and independents were overwhelmingly in favor – 83 percent and 71 percent, respectively — while Republicans were split, with 50 percent in favor and 49 percent opposed.
On the other side: Rep. Michelle Fischbach (R-Minn.) argued in a floor speech on Monday that Democrats are “out of touch.” since they voted on marijuana legislation over matters like inflation, gas prices, and the national debt.
“I guess the majority wants us to get as high as today’s gas prices and spend tax dollars on pot stores,” she said.
The next step
Despite the House’s landslide vote, the legislation is likely to face a tough fight in the Senate, despite Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s support for marijuana legislation.
The MORE Act, like most laws, would be subject to the Senate filibuster, which means it would require 10 Republican votes to pass, even if all Democrats support it.
Another roadblock could come from the White House, where Vice President Joe Biden has routinely worked to thwart legalization attempts.
The United States House of Representatives voted on Friday to pass legislation to decriminalize marijuana at the federal level, bringing the country one step closer to decriminalization and the latest sign of shifting opinions on the matter.
Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungmenent Act
While the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act is expected to meet stiff bill in the Senate, its debate and vote on Friday provided House legislators with an opportunity to express their views on the decriminalization effort.
The MORE Act would decriminalize marijuana by removing it from the Controlled Substances Act’s list. The bill would make it mandatory for federal courts to expunge earlier marijuana convictions and provide resentencing hearings for people who have served their time. It also sets up a 5% sales tax on marijuana and marijuana-related items, which will fund grant programs for employment training, substance abuse treatment, and loans to aid disadvantaged small companies in entering the marijuana industry.
It was approved by a 220-204, primarily along party lines. Only three Republicans voted in favor of the bill, while all but two Democrats did. The Senate must still approve it before it can be signed into law by President Joe Biden.
Marijuana is officially classified as a Schedule I substance under the Controlled Substances Act. It has a high potential for abuse and no accepted medical value in treatment in the United States like heroin and LSD.
During Friday’s discussion, Democrats claimed that the federal ban on marijuana has disproportionately harmed minority communities. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., highlighted figures showing that black people are four times more likely than white people to be arrested for marijuana possession, even though both groups use the drug at similar rates.
“Those criminal records can haunt people of color and impact the trajectory of their lives indefinitely,” Hoyer added. “I regret that some members of our Congress think that’s not worthy of attention.”
Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., said, “Make no mistake, yes, it is a racial justice bill,”
Republicans who opposed the bill claimed that marijuana is a gateway drug leading to increased use of opiates and other deadly drugs. They also said that today’s marijuana is significantly more potent than decades ago, causing users to be more impaired. They argue that, with the war in Ukraine and inflation driving up the cost of gas, food, and other necessities, decriminalization is not a priority for politicians.
“Yet the priority of this Congress now turns to expand access to addictive, behavior-altering recreational drugs when our country is also experiencing increased addiction, depression, and suicide,” said Rep. Bob Good, R-Va.
States vs Feds
Even though 18 states have legalized recreational marijuana and 37 have some medical marijuana, the federal prohibition still exists, causing problems for the industry in areas where it is legal, making it difficult for firms to obtain banking services and loans.
Democrats in the Senate, led by Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York, requested colleagues for feedback on a marijuana decriminalization bill they planned to introduce later this year in early February.
In a letter to colleagues, the Democrats wrote, “This is an issue of individual freedom and basic fairness that transcends party lines,”
Attempts to decriminalize marijuana in the past have failed.
This isn’t the first time a chamber of Congress has taken up the bill. The bill cleared the House in 2020 but did not gain traction in the Senate, where most bills require 60 votes to succeed. The sponsor’s panel was then cleared again in September for the current session.
While the once-outsider proposal has gained traction, not all Democrats have backed the bill in the past. Biden has said that he supports decriminalizing marijuana, but federal prohibition should remain.
“I’ve spoken about the president’s views on marijuana. Nothing has changed, and there are no new endorsements of legislation today,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said last summer.
The Senate has passed a bill to fund marijuana research.
The vote comes barely a week after the United States Senate passed a bill to hasten medicinal and scientific marijuana research efforts.
Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), According to Feinstein’s official website, Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) sponsored the bill.
According to Feinstein, “Current rules and regulations make it hard for researchers to study how marijuana and marijuana-derived medications can best be used to treat various conditions,” “This important legislation will cut the red tape around the research process, helping get FDA-approved, marijuana-derived medications safely to patients.”
The bill would also encourage the US Food and Drug Administration to develop cannabis-based treatments and allow doctors to address both the known dangerous and beneficial effects of utilizing marijuana products like CBD.
In a statement, Grassley said, “This bipartisan bill is critical to better understanding the marijuana plant and its potential benefits and side effects” “It will empower the FDA to analyze CBD and medical marijuana products safely and responsibly so that the American public can decide whether to utilize them in the future based on sound scientific data. My colleagues on both sides of the aisle favor marijuana research, and it’s a good move forward in tackling this existing schedule I narcotic.”
Cannabis has become a rapidly expanding industry
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, at least 37 states, four territories, and Washington, D.C. have authorized marijuana. Marijuana has been legalized for adult recreational use in 18 states, two territories, and Washington, D.C.
In a Gallup poll conducted in 2021, support for marijuana legalization reached a new high, with 68 percent of respondents in favor.
Cannabis, on the other hand, is one of the fastest-growing industries in the country. According to Leafly research prepared in collaboration with the cannabis economic analysis firm Whitney Economics, adult-use and medical marijuana sales will reach $25 billion in 2021. Researchers also discovered that employment growth in the marijuana industry surpassed six figures for the first time last year, with 107,059 new positions generated in 2018, compared to 32,700 in 2019.
Amazon announced last year that it would no longer evaluate job applicants for marijuana use.
As states continue to legalize cannabis or pass legislation prohibiting employers from testing for it, the corporation, the second-largest private employer in the United States after Walmart, made the shift.