House passes bill to legalize marijuana

The United States House of Representatives on Friday passed a bill that would legalize marijuana nationwide and put an end to unnecessary arrests of users of the medicinal plant.

The Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act, first introduced in 2021 by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-NY), has 114 co-sponsors. All but one – Republican Congressman Matt Gaetz of Florida – are Democrats.

The MORE Act was approved with a narrowly bipartisan 220-204 margin nearly along party lines. Two Democrats – Henry Cuellar (Texas) and Chris Pappas (New Hampshire) – defected from their party’s majority. Meanwhile, a trio of GOP lawmakers – Gaetz, Brian Mast (Florida), and Tom McClintock (California) – voted in favor of the legislation, which faces a challenging path forward in the evenly divided Senate.

The MORE Act, or House Resolution 3617, “removes marijuana from the list of scheduled substances under the Controlled Substances Act and eliminates criminal penalties for an individual who manufactures, distributes, or possesses marijuana.”

It also:

  • replaces statutory references to marijuana and marihuana with cannabis,
  • requires the Bureau of Labor Statistics to regularly publish demographic data on cannabis business owners and employees,
  • establishes a trust fund to support various programs and services for individuals and businesses in communities impacted by the war on drugs,
  • imposes an excise tax on cannabis products produced in or imported into the United States and an occupational tax on cannabis production facilities and export warehouses,
  • makes Small Business Administration loans and services available to entities that are cannabis-related legitimate businesses or service providers,
  • prohibits the denial of federal public benefits to a person on the basis of certain cannabis-related conduct or convictions,
  • prohibits the denial of benefits and protections under immigration laws on the basis of a cannabis-related event (e.g., conduct or a conviction),
  • establishes a process to expunge convictions and conduct sentencing review hearings related to federal cannabis offenses, and
  • directs the Government Accountability Office to study the societal impact of cannabis legalization.

Advocates for progress lauded the bill’s passage as a great leap forward toward a more equitable society.

“For far too long, we have treated marijuana as a criminal justice problem instead of as a matter of personal choice and public health. If states are the laboratories of democracy, it is long past time for the federal government to recognize that legalization has been a resounding success and the conflict with federal law has become untenable,” Nadler said.

“I was a supporter of the War on Drugs — I’ve been here a long time,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) said in a statement. “This bill is a matter of justice and equal opportunity… so that Americans and America can become a better, stronger, more fair, and more just America.”

Representative Barbara Lee (D-CA), a co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, called the MORE Act “a major criminal justice reform bill.” She then blasted Republican detractors for their opposition to much-needed reform, accusing them of “negotiating that away” and choosing to “leave [affected communities] behind — that to me is just immoral.”

Thirty-seven states along with Washington, the District of Columbia, have already legalized medical marijuana. Of those, 18 have green-lighted its recreational consumption.

On Thursday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said that the “time for the federal government to follow suit” is upon us.

“This landmark legislation is one of the most important criminal justice reform bills in recent history,” she remarked on the House floor. “Now it is time for the federal government to follow suit.”


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