The House passed a bill to decriminalize cannabis federally with a slim bipartisan majority. Surprisingly, Republicans Tom McClintock (CA), Brian Mast (FL), and Matt Gaetz (FL) supported the bill by voting with the Democrat majority. Conversely, Democrats Henry Cuellar (TX) and Chris Pappas (NH) voted against the bill in a break with their party.
Sponsored by Democratic New York Representative Jerry Nadler, the bill will allow the Veterans Administration to recommend medical cannabis to treat post-traumatic stress disorder and prevents federal agencies from denying federal workers security clearances for using cannabis. The bill would also promote revenue gains from a sales tax on marijuana sales.
Perhaps most importantly, the bill would expunge the criminal records of those convicted of non-violent cannabis offenses. Multiple studies have shown the long-lasting detrimental effects of the disproportionately biased “war on drugs.”
“It can result in difficulty finding employment, difficulty finding housing, denial of access to federal benefits, denial of financial aid at colleges and universities, and denial of the right to vote,” said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer.
The bill’s goals are in line with the ongoing increase of state-by-state social and fiscal progress toward legalized cannabis. Marijuana users and businesses face a complicated legal patchwork – 37 states have legalized it in some form (for recreation or medical use) while 13 still ban it entirely.
Current federal law classifies cannabis as an illegal drug with no medical uses. As a result, researchers are limited in studying the drug and its impacts, making the policy challenging to write. Additionally, cannabis businesses are essentially blocked from the US banking system because of the federal ban – cannabis stores and dispensaries can’t accept credit cards or even open business checking accounts.
The Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act would remove marijuana from the list of controlled substances and eliminate criminal penalties for individuals who grow, distribute, or possess it.
Given Republican lack of support, if not outright opposition, in an evenly divided Senate, it’s not expected that the MORE act will gain 60 votes needed to reach Pres. Biden’s desk for signature.
The bill does not compel any state to legalize marijuana.
Republican Representative Michelle Fischbach referred to the legislation as “flawed” and “dangerous,” arguing on the House floor that the bill did not protect minors and would encourage people to open marijuana businesses.
A 2021 Pew Research Center poll found that 91% of US citizens agreed that either medical or recreational use should be allowed.
Democrats have a similar legalization bill in the upper chamber in the Senate, but that bill is not expected to surpass the 60-vote threshold to pass the Senate.