In an unprecedented move for the US Congress, the federal House of Representatives passed a bill to decriminalize the use of marijuana and pardon people who were previously convicted for possession and use of the controlled substance. Members of the House voted on Friday, December 4, with 222 Democrats supporting the bill and 158 Republicans voting against it.
Democrat house majority leader, Steny Hoyer, told reporters that the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act was passed in the house as a result of the vast discrimination in the prosecution of people of color caught with the substance. The injustice, Hoyer stated, led to the wide consideration and support the bill had in the House.
“Millions of American citizens have had their lives turned upside down because there were convicted for having small amounts of marijuana in their possessions,” Hoyer explained. “There is also the issue of racial bias when authorities handle such convictions and this is baffling and very unfair.”
Hoyer added that the act of it survives in other stages, would decriminalize the production, distribution, and possession of marijuana, and also expunge proud convictions. In essence, this means that marijuana would no longer be one of the substances regulated by the Controlled Substance Act. Towards erasing prior convictions, the act would mandate hearings to review federal convictions connected to the production, distribution, and possession of the substance, CNN reports.
The act would also see a 5% sales tax imposed on weed and other products made from the cannabis plant. The funds will be used in the rehabilitation of Americans who have in one way or the other suffered from the War on Drugs program. Some sales tax would also go into creating business loans for struggling businesses and employment opportunities for unemployed Americans. The program would also be used to create licenses for the sale of marijuana.
The bill might have passed in the Democrat-controlled House but it is not expected to go very far in the Republican-led House. Earlier during the week, Mitch McConnel, Republican Senate Majority Leader, condemned the decision of the Lower House in moving to approve the marijuana bill instead of working on the COVID-19 stimulus bill. In a satirical statement, the 78-year-old Kentucky representative “appreciated” the House of Representatives for working on legalizing marijuana instead of “focusing on issues of national emergency”.
Kevin Sabet, head of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, a group that has been very vocal in advocating against the legalization of marijuana described the move as “unserious and undeserving of any attention”. Sabet stated that neither the administration of President Donald Trump nor the administration of President-elect Joe Biden will consider legalizing marijuana.
Biden had earlier shown support for the decriminalization of marijuana and the expungement of previous criminal records in connection with marijuana. The president-elect’s stance on the issue was made public by Andrew Bates, one of the spokesmen for the Biden transition office. Bates explained in 2019 that Biden wishes for the decriminalization of the substance but not its legalization.
In total, about 36 US states have approved the use of marijuana for medical use while 15 states have made it available for recreational use and more states including New York and Pennsylvania are moving towards legalizing the substance.