With much of the nation’s attention focused on the Coronavirus pandemic and Trump’s refusal to concede an election he lost, recent news of a vote in the House of Representatives may have slipped by unnoticed. But it shouldn’t.
The House just made history as it voted to decriminalize cannabis, a historic symbolic moment marking Congress’ very late to the party move toward embracing the views held by a large majority of Americans.
The bill was spearheaded by House Democrats and the entire Congressional Hispanic Caucus voted in favor of the bill, helping ensure its passage. Although it’s largely seen as a symbolic victory for marijuana rights advocates – since the Senate isn’t likely to act: Senate Republicans have indicated there’s no appetite to pass the measure.
The House of Representatives made history by passing a bill to decriminalize marijuana at the federal level.
For the first time in history, a bill decriminalizing marijuana has passed the lower chamber of congress and although it stands zero chance of becoming law, it’s a major milestone towards marijuana legalization.
The Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act passed the house with 228 in favor and 164 opposed, with only five Republicans voting in favor of the measure and six Democrats voting against it, according to ABC News.
From here, the bill will be sent to the Senate, where the measure will be reviewed for a second time. It’s unlikely that the Republican-led Senate will approve the bill, but seeing it move forward could mean a noticeably positive impact on the health of people across the country and on the U.S. at a societal level.
“Millions of Americans’ lives have been upended as a result of convictions for possessing small amounts of marijuana, and the racial disparities in conviction rates for those offenses are as shocking as they are unjust,” said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer in a statement after the vote, according to CNN. “That’s why we passed the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act today.”
The bill would importantly help those who have been convicted in the past of non-violent marijuana offenses.
The MORE Act aims to remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act, which would finally allow states to regulate it as they see fit, which many states are already doing.
Perhaps most importantly, it would also expunge past convictions for marijuana possession and require resentencing for those in prison for pot convictions. The bill also authorizes a federal tax on marijuana sales that would begin at 5 percent, funds which advocates say would be used to reinvest in communities that have suffered from the war on drugs.
The bill would also ban government agencies from using marijuana as a reason to deny people federally subsidized housing or to adversely impact their immigration status.
American’s opinions on marijuana use has changed dramatically in a short time and federal law needs to catch up.
Less than a decade ago, recreational marijuana was illegal in all 50 states. Now, as of December 2020, 15 states allow recreational use of marijuana (with Arizona, Montana, New Jersey, and South Dakota voting to allow it in 2020) in addition to the 38 states that allow medical marijuana.
That’s a rapid shift. And one that the federal government hasn’t kept up with. As voters across the country embrace legal weed, it’s remained completely illegal at the federal level, treated as the same category as cocaine and heroine.
Americans support marijuana legalization by a two-to-one margin, according to polls, numbers that have almost completely flipped in the past two decades. That support includes majorities of Republicans and vast majorities of Democrats and independents.
“We’re not rushing to legalize marijuana. The American people have already done that. We’re here because Congress has failed to deal with a disastrous war on drugs and do its part for the over 15 million marijuana users in every one of your districts,” said Rep. Earl Blumenauer, an Oregon Democrat and one of the bill’s chief architects, during House floor debate Friday morning before the vote. “It’s time for Congress to step up and do its part. We need to catch up with the rest of the American people.”
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