The bill passed the House in a 284-164 vote, with five Republicans breaking from their party and voting in favor, while six Democrats opposed. The bill will now move to the Senate.
The Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment, and Expungement Act would not only decriminalize the drug, but also mandate reassessments of past federal marijuana convictions. It would also invest in legally-owned marijuana businesses.
In a debate on the bill on Friday morning, those in favor of the legislation argued that federal marijuana convictions have proven to be “unwise and unjust,” and the use of the drug should be a public health issue rather than a legal one.
“Whatever one’s views are on the use of marijuana for recreational or medicinal use, the policy of arrests, prosecution, and incarceration at the Federal level has proven unwise and unjust,” Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-New York) argued.
Those opposed to the bill blasted marijuana as a gateway drug and argued legalization leads to an uptick in traffic crimes and deaths. “Legalizing weed would create revenue from taxes, but at what cost? Do we then start legalizing cocaine? Marijuana is a gateway drug – make no mistake about that,” Rep. Greg Murphy (R-North Carolina) argued.
While the legalization of marijuana has remained a hot-button issue in the US, 15 states and the District of Columbia have passed recreational use, and a total of 36 states and the District of Columbia have approved medical use.
Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Florida), a co-sponsor of the bill, admitted the legislation was “flawed,” but said he supported it because “the federal government has lied to the people of this country about marijuana for a generation.”
Gaetz blasted fellow Republicans for making arguments against marijuana decriminalization that “are overwhelmingly losing with the American people.”
Republicans have also argued the legislation should not be Congress’s top priority, while lawmakers have yet to pass a second Covid-19 stimulus package.
“You’d think, after a humiliating defeat at the ballot box this year, where Democrats didn’t defeat one Republican incumbent, that Democrats would get the picture that Americans are demanding action on issues that matter to them,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-California) told reporters.
The bill faces a tough road ahead, as the Senate is Republican-controlled, and it would need to reach a 60-vote threshold to pass.
If the bill did pass the Senate, it would still need a signature from either President Donald Trump or Joe Biden when he takes office. While Trump has championed criminal justice reform and said in the past he supports states setting their own policies on marijuana, it remains to be seen if he would support this bill.
Biden’s presidential campaign claimed he was for decriminalizing marijuana usage and expunging prior federal convictions.
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