House votes to decriminalize marijuana, but Senate fate dim

The House approved legislation Friday that would decriminalize marijuana at the federal level. Democrats argued for states being able to decide their own policy on pot.

House votes to decriminalize marijuana, but Senate fate dim

It is likely that the bill will not become law as it is expected to die at the Senate. This would be similar to what happened two years ago when a similar House measure that removed marijuana from the federally-controlled substances list was rejected by the Senate.

However, Friday's vote allowed lawmakers to voice their opinions on a decriminalization push which appears to have wide support from voters across the country.

The 2020 election demonstrated how widely accepted marijuana is. Measures to legalize recreational marijuana won victories in progressive New Jersey and moderate Arizona, as well as conservative Montana and South Dakota.

The House approved Friday's bill with a majority party-line vote 220-204. The measure was supported by all but two Democrats, and only three Republicans.

Federal courts would be required to exonerate prior marijuana convictions and hold resentencing hearings for people who have completed their sentences. The measure also allows for a 5% tax to be applied to marijuana and other marijuana products. This would gradually rise to 8% over five year. This money could be used to fund grant programs that focus on job training, legal assistance, and loans to small businesses that are disadvantaged in order for them to get into the marijuana market.

According to the Congressional Budget Office, thousands of inmates could be released sooner than under current law. This would save $800 million over a 10 year period. The federal deficit will be cut by almost $3 billion in the next decade.

Democrats claim that the federal ban on marijuana in the United States has had devastating effects for minorities. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), House Majority Leader, pointed out statistics showing that Black Americans are four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than white Americans, despite using it at the same rate.

Hoyer stated that criminal records "can haunt people of color and affect the trajectory of their life indefinitely." "I regret that some members of Congress think that this is not worthy of attention.

Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) stated, "Make no mistake, it's a racial just bill."

Republicans opposed to the measure claimed that marijuana is a gateway drug which would encourage more people to use opioids and other dangerous substances. They claimed that pot today is much more potent than it was decades ago, which leads to greater impairment for those who use it. With the rising cost of fuel, food, and other essentials, decriminalization should not be a priority, they said.

Rep. Bob Good (R-Va) stated that "Yet, the priority of Congress now turns to expanding accessibility to addictive, behaviour-altering recreational drug at a time our country is also experiencing increased dependence, depression, and suicide."

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 37 states and the District of Columbia permit the medical use of marijuana products. 18 states and District of Columbia have legalized recreational cannabis.

"If the states are the laboratories for democracy, it's long past time that the federal government recognizes that legalization was a resounding failure and that the conflict between federal law and the state law has become untenable," stated Rep. Jerrold Ndler, D.N.Y., the sponsor of the bill. He is also chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.

The Senate was occupied by Democrats, including Majority Leader Chuck Schumer from New York. They asked their colleagues for input in February on a bill to decriminalize marijuana. After the House vote, he said that the Senate was still working on the legislation but that he hoped the legislation would be introduced "very soon."

Schumer stated that "Ofcourse, we will require Republicans to pass a Legalization Bill in the Senate. We will be working hard to get them,"


 

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