In Major Legislative Ruling, House Votes to Decriminalize Marijuana at the Federal Level

Marijuana Plant 03” by Jennifer Martin is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0.

On Friday, the United States House of Representatives voted via a 220-204 split to legalize marijuana at the federal level.  The proposed bill will not only legalize marijuana possession but also lift previous criminal penalties associated with the possession or distribution of marijuana. 

 

The vote was divided largely across party lines, with only three Republicans – Matt Gaetz (R-FL), Brian Mast (R-FL), and Tom McClintock (R-CA) – voting to legalize marijuana.  Meanwhile, all but two Democrats – Henry Cuellar (D-TX) and Chris Pappas (D-NH) – supported the legislation. 

 

Titled the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, the bill “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.” 

 

If signed into law, the bill would impose a federal tax on consumers purchasing cannabis-related products, with the tax rate starting at five percent and, over a several-year period, ratcheting up to eight percent.  The funds accumulated via this tax will be appropriated to a fund that, among other objectives, would seek to provide substance-use treatment, job training, and mentoring programs.

 

The bill passed through the House of Representatives last year before eventually stalling in the U.S. Senate.  A similar fate will likely befall the bill now, as it seems unlikely that the MORE Act will garner the 60 votes necessary to move to a full Senate vote.

 

Public opinion on marijuana has gradually shifted over the years, with a plurality of U.S. citizens now supporting its legalization.  Recent polling from Pew Research indicated that over six in ten Americans believe that marijuana should be legalized for both recreational and medical purposes, a stark increase compared with data from just a decade prior.   

 

Concomitantly, a number of states have adopted policies over the past decade legalizing marijuana use.  Per the NCSL, at least 37 states allow medical marijuana usage, including 18 states that permit both medical and recreational possession of the substance.

 

Inevitably, several intense moments ensued on the House floor as Republicans and Democrats made their cases for or against the passage of the MORE Act. 

 

Republican Jim Jordan (R-OH) said on the House floor: “Record crime, record inflation, record gas prices, record number of illegal immigrants crossing our southern border, and what are Democrats doing today?  Legalizing drugs.  Legalizing drugs and using American tax dollars to kick start and prop up the marijuana industry.  Wow.”   

 

Meanwhile, representatives such as Dave Joyce (R-OH) opposed the legislation for different reasons.  Joyce indicated that he favors marijuana decriminalization but opposes the MORE Act because it would “punish those who have made a point to operate legally at their own personal cost, by placing an additional tax on legal operators to pay for the cost of industry access for illegal operators.” 

 

While Republicans largely voted against the passage of the bill, Democrats hailed it as a major step towards legalizing marijuana at the federal level and eliminating sentences for those convicted of marijuana-related offenses. 

 

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) called the bill “landmark legislation,” and remarked that it will provide “justice for those harmed by the brutal, unfair consequences of criminalization.”

 

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has indicated his support for the legislation, signaling that he will attempt to rally his caucus around passing the legislation.  However, even if all 50 Democrats in the Senate voted to pass the MORE Act, at least 10 Republicans would need to join in, a possibility that seems unlikely. 

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