Democrat-controlled US House of Representatives on Friday passed a bill it would legalize marijuana at the federal level – the first time either body of Congress has supported the legalization of marijuana.
the bill remove marijuana from the federal drug classification system, which is the basis of much of federal drug policy, and remove criminal penalties for anyone who possesses, distributes or produces marijuana.
The Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and De-listing Act (MORE) would erase the records of people who have previously been convicted federally for marijuana. It would also impose a tax on marijuana products, which would fund new programs designed to support “individuals and businesses in communities affected by the war on drugs.”
The bill would also take many steps to reverse the collateral damage of the cannabis ban: it would open up federal loans to marijuana companies, prohibit federal officials from denying public benefits to people who have already been convicted of marijuana, and would prohibit denial of US citizenship on the basis of marijuana. – related events, among other changes.
The bill is unlikely, however, to make much further into the current Congress, with the Republican-controlled Senate still opposed to legalization. (Marijuana moment, a news media focused on marijuana, closely followed daily developments in Congress.)
There is a senatorial version of the MORE law, if the legislature, in a very unlikely scenario, decides to take it back. It is sponsored by Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA), who is now the elected vice president.
Although Harris now supports legalization, President-elect Joe Biden has said he only supports more moderate efforts and decriminalization (which would remove criminal penalties for possession but leave other penalties in place). It is therefore not clear whether the MORE law will fare better under Biden.
President Donald Trump has expressed support for letting states decide their own marijuana laws, but has so far rejected full legalization at the federal level.
The MORE law would not legalize marijuana nationwide. While this would remove a giant hurdle to full legalization by removing federal restrictions, it would still be up to the states to decide whether they want to legalize marijuana within their borders. So far, 15 states and Washington, DC, have legalized marijuana, although DC does not allow recreational sales.
Several states recently voted to legalize marijuana – in the same election Biden won – including conservatives in Montana and South Dakota.
One potential obstacle to legalization: This would technically put the United States in violation of a series of international drug control treaties, which prohibit signatories from allowing marijuana – and various other currently illicit drugs – for recreational purposes. But other countries, like Canada and Uruguay, have legalized marijuana while effectively ignoring treaties.
Proponents of legalization argue that it eliminates the harms of marijuana prohibition: the hundreds of thousands of arrests in the United States, the racial disparities behind those arrests, and the billions of dollars that go from the black market in marijuana illicit drug cartels who then use the money for violent operations around the world. All of this, advocates of legalization say, will outweigh any potential drawbacks – such as increased cannabis use – that could accompany legalization.
Opponents, however, say legalization will allow a huge marijuana industry to market the drug irresponsibly. They point to American experiences with the alcohol and tobacco industries in particular, which have built their financial empires largely on some of the heaviest consumers of their products. This could cause more people to use the potty, even if it has negative health consequences.
At least at US House, the supporters won the day.
To learn more about legalizing marijuana, read Vox’s explanation.