Apr 1, 2022 - Politics & Policy

House passes bill to decriminalize marijuana

Cannabis leaf. Photo: Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

The House on Friday voted to decriminalize cannabis on the federal level and allow for the expungement of some marijuana convictions.

Why it matters: The legislation would monumentally reshape U.S. drug policy and the decades-long war on drugs, keeping pace with states across the country that have legalized marijuana.

Driving the news: The bill passed the House 220-204.

  • Three Republicans joined all but two Democrats in passing the bill: Reps. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), Tom McClintock (R-Calif.) and Brian Mast (R-Fla.)

The details: The Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act would remove marijuana from the list of scheduled substances, so that growing, selling or possessing the drug would no longer carry criminal penalties.

  • It would also create a process to expunge non-violent marijuana convictions and review criminal sentences for offenders.
  • Finally, it would allow the government to offer loans to cannabis businesses and impose a tax on cannabis products, the revenue from which would partly go to programs to assist those "adversely impacted by the War on Drugs."

What they're saying: "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 duty 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."

The big picture: A Gallup poll in November of last year had 68% of Americans supporting full legalization of marijuana, up from 34% in 2001.

  • Democrats and independents overwhelmingly supported it — 83% and 71% respectively — while Republicans were split, 50% in favor and 49% against.

The other side: Rep. Michelle Fischbach (R-Minn.) argued in a floor speech on Monday that the vote on marijuana legislation over issues like inflation, gas prices and the national debt shows that Democrats are "out of touch."

  • "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: Despite the lopsided vote in the House, the legislation is likely to face a steep uphill battle in the Senate, even though Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has championed marijuana legislation.

  • Like most bills, the MORE Act would be subject to the Senate filibuster, meaning it needs 10 GOP votes to pass even if all Democrats support it.
  • Yet another hurdle could be the White House, as President Biden has consistently taken steps to stymie legalization efforts.
  • A Biden administration spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.
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