House Passes Bill To Decriminalize Marijuana As More States Loosen Pot Restrictions

The U.S. House of Representatives voted to decriminalize marijuana on Friday, passing a bill that would remove the drug from the list of federally controlled substances, expunge federal pot-related convictions for lower-level offenses, and allow for the regulation of legal cannabis sales.

The Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act was approved mostly along party lines by a vote of 228 to 164. Only five Republicans supported the bill, while just six Democrats opposed it. The proposal now advances to the Senate, where it is not expected to pass.

Several Democrats who supported the legislation said it would help correct failed, decades-old, selectively-enforced drug laws that have unfairly impacted people of color.

“The United States incarcerates more people than any other country in the world,” said Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) before the vote. “We have ruined lives, families, and communities. It’s a stain on our democracy.”

“Marijuana use is either socially acceptable behavior or it’s criminal conduct,” he continued. “But it can’t be socially accepted behavior in some neighborhoods and criminal conduct in other neighborhoods when the dividing line is race.”

According to The Washington Post, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) “has expressed firm opposition to legalizing pot” and  “made derisive public comments about the bill this week, painting the measure as a frivolous diversion.”

However, the outlet notes that more GOP voters are evolving on the issue, increasingly favoring loosening cannabis restrictions on the state level.

As the Post reports, “the House took a stand at a moment of increasing momentum, with voters last month opting to liberalize marijuana laws in five states – including three that President Trump won handily,” and:

On Election Day in South Dakota, for instance, 54 percent of voters opted to legalize marijuana, while only 36 percent of voters chose the Democratic presidential ticket. In Montana, the 57 percent who voted to legalize marijuana nearly matched the number who voted to reelect Trump. And Mississippi became the first state in the Deep South to legalize marijuana for medical use, with 62 percent of voters approving a ballot measure in a state where Trump won 58 percent of the vote.

Fifteen states have legalized recreational cannabis to some degree, and 36 states have approved medical marijuana programs, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

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.

“We are not rushing to legalize marijuana – the American people have already done that,” said Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), who has spent 47 years advocating for such reforms. “We’re here because Congress has failed to deal with a disastrous war on drugs and do its part for the over 50 million regular marijuana users in every one of your districts…We need to catch up with the rest of the American people.”

A recent Gallup poll found that 68% of Americans support legalizing marijuana.

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