Last updated on June 15th, 2022 at 03:27 pm
On Friday, the House approves bill legalizing m**ijuana across the country and repeal the long-standing criminal penalties for those who distribute or possess it.
The bill was passed largely along party lines, with three Republicans joining all but two Democrats in support, 220-204.
Reps. Matt Gaetz (Fla.), Brian Mast (Fla.), and Tom McClintock (Calif.) were the three Republicans who voted for the bill, while Democratic Reps. Henry Cuellar (Texas) and Chris Pappas (N.H.) voted against it.
The bill now heads to the Senate, where Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) is working with colleagues to introduce a m**ijuana legalization bill as early as this spring.
However, it’s unclear whether a bill to broadly legalize m**ijuana would receive the 60 votes needed to advance in the Senate.
Within his own Democratic caucus, Schumer may not have enough support. Senators Joe Manchin (W.Va.) and Jeanne Shaheen (N.H.), both Democrats who represent states ravaged by the opioid epidemic, have expressed reservations about the proposal.
In December 2020, House Democrats passed a bill to legalize m**ijuana. However, the bill failed to gain traction in the Senate, which was still controlled by Republicans at the time.
The M**ijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act would remove m**ijuana from the federal list of controlled substances and clear m**ijuana-related convictions from people’s records.
The bill would also levy a federal tax on m**ijuana sales to fund programs aimed at assisting communities harmed by the so-called “war on drugs” policies, which imposed harsh penalties for drug distribution and use.
The sales tax would begin at 5% and gradually increase to 8% over the course of five years.
Proponents argued that the federal government should catch up with the majority of states that have legalized m**ijuana to some degree.
“We have treated m**ijuana as a criminal justice problem for far too long, rather than as a matter of personal choice and public health,” said House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), the bill’s chief sponsor.
“If states are democracy’s laboratories,” Nadler said, “it’s long past time for the federal government to acknowledge that legalization has been a resounding success and that the conflict with federal law has become untenable.”
Due to 12 Democrats joining all but two Republicans in opposition, the House rejected an amendment from Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) to clarify that people can’t be denied security clearances because they use m**ijuana.
Democrats also framed the bill as a way to mitigate the disproportionate impact of m**ijuana prohibition on racial minorities. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, black people are nearly four times more likely than white people to be arrested for m**ijuana possession, despite the fact that both races use the drug at roughly the same rate.
Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), a co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus and a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, said, “Make no mistake: This is a racial justice bill.”
Republicans argued that m**ijuana is sufficiently mind-altering to be a danger to society.
“What are Democrats doing today, with record crime, inflation, gas prices, and the number of illegal immigrants crossing our southern border? Drug legalization is a good idea. Drug legalization and the use of American tax dollars to jumpstart and support the m**ijuana industry. Wow,” said Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), the House Judiciary Committee’s top Republican.
According to the National Conference on State Legislatures, at least 37 states, four territories, and the District of Columbia allow medical m**ijuana use. 18 states, two territories, and the nation’s capital are among the states that allow it for non-medical use.
On Friday, some Republicans who support House approves bill legalizing m**ijuana opposed House Democrats’ bill, arguing that a more bipartisan approach would have been preferable.
Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.) proposed bringing the bill to the House floor on Friday, bringing it closer to her own m**ijuana legalization bill, which would limit m**ijuana use to people over 21 and set a lower sales tax that would not rise for ten years.
“I have incentives for states not to sell to children, not to market to children, not to advertise to children,” Mace told The Hill. “At 3%, my tax is a lot lower.” After three years, theirs is eight, and we all know that if you raise taxes too high, you’ll guarantee illicit markets.”
Rep. Dave Joyce (R-Ohio), a co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, stated in an op-ed for m**ijuana Moment, a m**ijuana policy publication, that he would not support the bill on Friday.
“To end prohibition responsibly, the federal government must simultaneously issue a regulatory framework that works in tandem with the specific needs of states.” The MORE Act lacks this crucial component, as well as any meaningful and immediate regulatory safeguards, leaving individual states to sort out issues that are typically handled by federal agencies in the interim,” Joyce wrote.
House approves bill legalizing m**ijuana several times in the last year, the House has passed legislation allowing legally operating m**ijuana businesses to use banking services and credit cards rather than relying solely on cash. So far, nine Senate Republicans have signed on as cosponsors of Sen. Jeff Merkley’s (D-Ore.) companion bill for more limited m**ijuana legalization in the upper chamber.