House votes to decriminalize marijuana, but Senate’s fate darkens

April 1, 2022

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Marijuana would be decriminalized at the federal level under legislation approved by the House on Friday, as Democrats pushed for allowing states to set their own pot policies.

The bill is unlikely to become law since it is expected to die in the Senate. This would mirror what happened when a similar measure passed by the House removing marijuana from the list of federally controlled substances went nowhere in the Senate two years ago.

Still, Friday’s vote gave lawmakers a chance to air their views on a decriminalization push that appears to have broad support from voters across the country.

The 2020 election showed how widely accepted marijuana has become, with moves to legalize recreational pot-breaking leading to victory in progressive New Jersey, moderate Arizona and conservative Montana and North Dakota. South.

The House approved the bill Friday with a largely partisan vote of 220 to 204. All but two of the voting Democrats backed the measure, while only three Republicans did.

The measure would require federal courts to overturn previous marijuana convictions and hold reconviction hearings for those serving their sentences. It also authorizes a 5% sales tax on marijuana and marijuana products that would be used for grant programs focused on job training, drug treatment and loans to help disadvantaged small businesses grow. start in the marijuana industry.

Democrats said the country’s federal marijuana ban had particularly devastating consequences for minority communities. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., cited statistics showing that black Americans were four times more likely than white Americans to be arrested for possession of marijuana, even if they used it at similar rates.

“These criminal records can haunt people of color and have an indefinite impact on the trajectory of their lives,” Hoyer said. “I regret that there are members of our Congress who apparently think this is not worthy of attention.”

“Make no mistake, yes, this is a racial justice bill,” said Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif.

Republicans who opposed the measure said marijuana is a gateway drug that would lead to greater use of opioids and other dangerous substances. They also said that the pot sold today is much more potent than what was sold decades ago, resulting in greater impairment for those who use it. They said decriminalization is not the priority lawmakers should focus on now, with the war in Ukraine and inflation driving up the cost of gas, food and other essentials.

“Yet the priority of this Congress now is to expand access to addictive and behavior-altering recreational drugs at a time when our country is also experiencing an increase in addiction, depression, and suicide,” said said Rep. Bob Good, R-Va.

Thirty-seven states and the District of Columbia allow the medical use of cannabis products, while 18 states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for recreational use, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

“If states are the laboratories of democracy, it is high time the federal government recognizes that legalization has been a resounding success and that the conflict with federal law has become untenable,” said the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Jerrold Nadler, DN. .Y., Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.

In the Senate, Democrats, including Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York, asked their colleagues in early February for their views on a marijuana decriminalization bill they would introduce later this year.

“This is a matter of individual liberty and fundamental fairness that clearly transcends party lines,” the Democrats said in their letter to colleagues.