House Passes Bill To Legalize Marijuana And Remove Penalties

A bowl of medicinal marijuana is displayed in a booth at The International Cannabis and Hemp Expo in … [+] 2010 at the Cow Palace in Daly City, California. Marijuana would be decriminalized at the federal level under legislation that the House approved on Friday, as Democrats made the case for allowing states to set their own policies on pot. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Getty Images

It may be April Fool’s today, but this is no joke.

The U.S. House of Representative passed a bill today to federally legalize marijuana.

The Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act, known as the MORE Act, will decriminalize marijuana, remove marijuana from the list of scheduled substances under the Controlled Substances Act, and eliminate criminal penalties for an individual who manufactures, distributes, or possesses marijuana.

The MORE Act said legalizing cannabis is an issue of economic growth, social equity, racial justice, and states’ rights.

Sponsored by House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) the bill passed by a vote of 220-204 on a bipartisan basis with votes from three Republicans, Representatives Matt Gaetz and Brian Mast of Florida, and Tom McClintock of California. The bill now goes to the Senate, where it will probably not get the 60 votes needed to pass, despite Majority Leader Chuck Shumer (D-N.Y.) supporting it. The House passed a similar bill in 2020, but did not garner support in a Republican controlled Senate.

“This bill reverses decades of failed federal policies based on the criminalization of marijuana by legalizing marijuana, retroactively expunging previous convictions, and more,” said Nadler. “Criminal penalties for marijuana offenses, and the resulting collateral consequences, are unjust and harmful to our society. The bill sets a new path forward and would begin to correct some of the injustices of the last 50 years.”

With 37 states and the District of Columbia already allowing cannabis for medical purposes and 15 legalizing it for adult recreation the federal government has been behind the curve on a popular issue. In 2020, legal cannabis sales totaled $20 billion, and are projected to double by 2025.

With the vast majority of states allowing the use of marijuana, “What a massive outbreak of common sense in America,” said Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD). “I concede our party is not for the kind of cocaine-fueled orgies that [Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-NC)] bragged about this week, but we do understand their marijuana prohibition laws don’t work for our people.”

The costs of enforcing cannabis-prohibition laws costs taxpayers approximately $3.6 billion a year, according to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and results in more than 600,000 arrests annually. These arrests disproportionately affect people of color who are four times more likely to be arrested for cannabis possession than their white counterparts, despite equal rates of use across populations. Meanwhile, fewer than one-fifth of cannabis business owners identify as minorities and only 4 percent are black.

“Protecting consumers from prosecution is the first place to start,” said Dasheeda Dawson, founding chair of the Cannabis Regulators of Color Coalition, a coalition of government officials. “Ending the war on drugs also means adopting progressive and noncriminal regulatory strategies rather than relying on law enforcement.”

According to Congress.gov, the bill includes the following:

  • establish a trust fund to support various programs and services for individuals and businesses in communities affected by the war on drugs,
  • impose 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,
  • make Small Business Administration loans and services available to entities that are cannabis-related legitimate businesses or service providers,
  • prohibit the denial of federal public benefits to a person on the basis of certain cannabis-related conduct or convictions,
  • prohibit the denial of benefits and protections under immigration laws on the basis of a cannabis-related event (e.g., conduct or a conviction),
  • establish a process to expunge convictions and conduct sentencing review hearings related to federal cannabis offenses, and
  • direct the Government Accountability Office to study the societal impact of cannabis legalization.