For the first time the US House of Representatives passed a bill to decriminalise cannabis at the national level. It discards cannabis from the list of federally controlled substances and erases certain federal convictions. It also hails reinvestment in communities resentfully affected by the decades long war on drugs. The bill is very unlikely to be taken up in the Republican-controlled Senate.
The Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (More) Act was passed in the lower chamber 228 to 164 on Friday afternoon, with five Republicans - and one independent - supporting the initiative. To become law, the bill needs to pass the Senate and be signed by the president. If that happens, it could help bridge a major gap between national and state drug policy in the US.
Why Is Cannabis Not Legal Federally?
Cannabis is still barred by the 1970 federal drug policy known as the Controlled Substances Act and classed as a Schedule I narcotic- described as having no medical value and a high prospective for abuse but states have made their own laws relating to the drug.
One in three Americans currently live in states where cannabis is legal for adults, in spite of the federal ban. Fifteen states and the District of Columbia have passed ballot measures or initiatives that permit the recreational use of cannabis by anyone over the age of 21. Moreover, 38 states have passed measures that allow its use for medicinal purposes.
Last month, voters in three states - Arizona, Montana and New Jersey - vigorously endorsed ballot measures to legalise recreational use, with voters in Mississippi supporting its medicinal use. South Dakota, a traditionally conservative state, made history when voters there concurrently backed initiatives for the medicinal and recreational use of the drug.
Support for federal cannabis legalisation is now at an all-time high, with a Gallup poll last month showing more than two-thirds of American adults back it.
Several lawmakers took to the House floor ahead of the vote, claiming the bill had less to do with legalising marijuana and more to do with how the imposition of cannabis prohibition has hurt communities of colour, leaving behind a bequest of racial and ethnic injustices.
Black Americans are more than three times as likely to be arrested for cannabis-related offences as white Americans, in spite of similar rates of usage, according to a study last year from the American Civil Liberties Union.
What Does The Bill Propose?
It includes measures to delete the federal criminal records of those charged or convicted for non-violent cannabis offenses and provide cannabis business owners easier access to grants or loans. It would also tax cannabis retail sales and create a trust fund to reinvest in job training and other initiatives for communities of colour abused by the drug war.
We are not in a hurry to legalise marijuana. The American people have already done that, said Democrat Earl Blumenauer, from Oregon, who is the founder of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus and an original sponsor of the bill. We are here because Congress has failed to deal with the devastating war on drugs and do its part for the over 50 million regular marijuana users in every one of your districts. The bill was penned in coordination with various cannabis justice advocates.
What Reaction Has There Been?
Several Republican lawmakers said the bill had disturbing suggestions that could be possibly harmful to American youth. Greg Murphy, from North Carolina, said the drug was one of the most harmful substances on the planet. Others called the vote a waste of time, complaining that they should have instead focused on Covid relief.
Cannabis reform advocates, however, hailed the vote as "historic" and "long overdue".
It came as the National Basketball Association (NBA) released a statement announcing it would suspend random cannabis testing of its players for the 2020-21 season.
President-elect Joe Biden has indicated a desire to eliminate federal prohibition through decriminalisation, but neither Senate Republican leadership nor current president Donald Trump have expressed support for the legislation to become law. If Republicans win one or both Senate runoff elections in Georgia next month, the party will keep its majority in the upper chamber.
Following the passage of the House bill, Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer urged his allies to support the reforms: These bills are part of a broader movement to address pertialities in criminal justice, business and more. Today's bipartisan vote shows just how far that movement has come.
Adding an infrequent voice of support from across the aisle, Matt Gaetz of Florida - the lone Republican co-sponsor of the bill - said: The federal government has lied to the people of this country about marijuana for a generation... If we were measuring the success of the war on drugs, we have lost.