U.S. House passes bill decriminalizing marijuana; Senate fortunes unclear

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Politics

The House passed similar legislation in December 2020, but it was not brought up for a vote in the Senate, which was controlled by Republicans at the time.

WASHINGTON — The House on Friday passed legislation that would remove marijuana from the federal schedule of controlled substances, a move that comes as an increasing number of states have passed decriminalization laws.

The measure, H.R. 3617, is known as the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act, or the MORE Act. The House passed similar legislation in December 2020, but it was not brought up for a vote in the Senate, which was controlled by Republicans at the time.

Friday’s 220-to-204 vote largely took place along partisan lines, with only three Republicans joining most Democrats to back the legislation. Two Democrats voted “no.”

It remains unclear whether the latest measure will receive a vote in the Senate. The White House has not yet issued a statement on whether President Joe Biden supports the legislation. A group of Senate Democrats including Majority Leader Charles Schumer, N.Y., and Sens. Cory Booker, N.J., and Ron Wyden, Ore., is expected to release draft marijuana legislation later this month.

In addition to eliminating criminal penalties for the manufacture, distribution, or possession of marijuana, the MORE Act would provide for the regulation and taxation of legal cannabis sales. It also would provide for the expungement of federal marijuana convictions dating to 1971 and bars the denial of federal public benefits or security clearances on the basis of marijuana offenses.

The past decade has seen a significant shift in public attitudes toward marijuana, with all but a handful of states having changed their laws. Some have legalized only medical marijuana use, while others allow both recreational and medical use. The drug has also become a jobs creator, with legal cannabis sales totaling $19 billion in 2020 and expected to reach $41 billion by 2025.

Decriminalizing marijuana at the federal level would not end the vast majority of cannabis-use prosecutions, which occur in state courts. But it would end troublesome conflicts between state and federal law for those states that have loosened pot restrictions and would greatly ease commerce for the multibillion-dollar cannabis industry.

Public opinion appears to be in line with the state-level electoral trend. In late 2020, a Gallup survey found that 68 percent of Americans said the use of marijuana should be legal, the highest support for marijuana legalization since the polling organization first asked in 1969.

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