New House Bill Moves to Decriminalize Marijuana

The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill to decriminalize marijuana at a federal level on Friday. The Democratic-led House voted on this issue for the first time, however, it seems unlikely that the Republican-led Senate will vote the same way. 

"Millions of Americans' lives have been upended as a result of convictions for possessing small amounts of marijuana, and the racial disparities in conviction rates for those offenses are as shocking as they are unjust," House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said after the vote. "That's why we passed the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act today."

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Republicans criticized the new bill and its lack of potential to pass through the Senate. President and co-founder of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, Kevin Sabet, a strong opponent of the legalization of marijuana, claims the bill is “unserious” and will not be receiving any interest from the Senate. Decriminalizing marijuana at a federal level is a new topic for Congress, and many, including President-elect Joe Biden, think the decision to legalize it should be left up to the states. 

The decriminalization of marijuana seeks to address the injustices and effects of the war on drugs. The MORE Act would have marijuana removed from the Controlled Substances Act and would erase criminal penalties for individuals who produce, manufacture, distribute or possess marijuana, even creating a process to expunge prior convictions. The bill would also introduce a 5% tax that intends to fund community and small business grant programs that target the negative impacts created by the criminalization of marijuana. 

The criminalization of marijuana, in addition to the war on drugs, has led to adverse effects that have lasted generations on lower income communities. While communities of color are no more likely to use drugs than white people, they are more likely to get arrested and incarcerated, even for non-violent offenses. The latest bill aims to address the injustice felt by those communities by erasing the penalty and creating grant programs for the communities. 

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The war on drugs has roots in systemic racism and has had a negative impact on people of color. While the MORE Act is a step toward rectifying the war on drugs’ missteps, the Senate has yet to vote on the issue.