House Passes Landmark MORE Act to Decriminalize Marijuana

“For far too long, we have treated marijuana as a criminal justice problem instead of as a matter of personal choice and public health,” said Jerry Nadler, the chief sponsor of the bill.
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No, this is not an April fool’s joke.

The House passed legislation on Friday to legalize marijuana across the United States and stamp out longstanding criminal penalties for distribution and possession, according to The Hill.

The bill, titled the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, passed 220-204, with three Republicans voting in favor of it and two Democrats voting against it.

The Republicans who joined in support all were Florida Reps. Matt Gaetz and Biran Mast, along with Tom McClintock of California. Democratic Reps. Henry Cuellar (TX) and Chris Pappas (NH) were against the bill.

Though the bill passed in the House, it still must go to the Senate where Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY) is coordinating with other Democrats to introduce a marijuana legalization bill by the spring.

The bill to broadly legalize marijuana faces an uncertain future, as it is not clear if it could receive the 60 votes necessary to advance in the Senate.

Two Democrats, West Virginia Senator Joe Machin and New Hampshire’s Jeanne Shaheen, have expressed their concerns with the proposal, as both represent states that were devastated by the opioid epidemic.

The MORE Act would impose a federal tax on marijuana sales starting at five percent and increasing to eight percent over five years. The plan calls for that money to fund programs to help communities still coping with the aftermath of “War on Drugs”-era policies.

Marijuana has become legal in 18 states, as well as Washington D.C. and Guam, and a total of 37 states and four territories allow the use of it for medical reasons. Proponents argue that it is time the federal government aligns its policies with the prevailing will of the states.

“For far too long, we have treated marijuana as a criminal justice problem instead of as a matter of personal choice and public health,” said House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-NY), the chief sponsor of the bill.  “If states are the laboratories of democracy, it is long past time for the federal government to recognize that legalization has been a resounding success and the conflict with federal law has become untenable.”

Some Democrats emphasized that the measure is intended to reverse the disparity  marijuana’s criminalization has had on racial minorities. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, Black Americans are roughly four times more likely than white people to be arrested for marijuana possession, despite both races using it at about the same rate.

“Make no mistake: Yes, it is a racial justice bill,” said Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), a Congressional Cannabis Caucus co-chair and member of the Congressional Black Caucus.

Republicans, who have often opposed decriminalization, still maintain that marijuana would pose a significant threat to society.

“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,” said Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan, the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee.

Responding to such sentiments, Maryland Democrat Jamie Raskin said on the House floor Friday, “I concede our party is not for the kind of cocaine-fueled orgies that a freshman Republican representative bragged about this week. But we do understand that their marijuana prohibition laws don’t work for our people.”

 

Raskin was referring to 26-year-old North Carolina Rep. Hawthorn Madison. The youngest person ever elected to Congress, Hawthorn commented earlier this week on the “sexual perversion that goes on in Washington,” comparing it Netflix’s House of Cards, which starred Kevin Spacey and was canceled in 2018. Hawthorn also spoke of the many “orgies” he is aware of where “you watch them do a key bump of cocaine right in front of you.”

In the past year, the House has passed legislation on multiple occasions to allow legally operating marijuana businesses to access banking services and credit cards, so cash-only is not their sole option.


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