The Democratic-controlled US House of Representatives passed legislation on Friday to legalize marijuana at the federal level – the first time any of the two bodies of Congress have endorsed the legalization of marijuana.
The bill would remove marijuana from the federal drug planning system that forms the basis of much of federal drug policy and remove criminal penalties for anyone who owns, distributes or produces marijuana.
The Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act would delete records for those with previous federal marijuana convictions. 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 numerous steps to reverse the collateral damage of the cannabis ban: it would open federal loans to marijuana companies, prohibit federal officials from denying public services to people with previous marijuana beliefs, and prohibit denial of U.S. citizenship on the basis of marijuana-related Events, including changes.
However, the law is unlikely to go much further in the ongoing Congress as the Republican-controlled Senate is still opposed to legalization. (Marihuana Moment, a marijuana-focused news agency, has been closely following daily developments in Congress.)
There is a Senate version of the MORE bill in case the legislature should decide to include it in the very unlikely scenario. It is sponsored by Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) who is now the vice president-elect.
Although Harris now supports legalization, President-elect Joe Biden has said he will only support more moderate efforts and decriminalization (which would remove criminal penalties for possession but remain in place). So it’s unclear whether the MORE law will do better under Biden.
President Donald Trump has spoken out in favor of states being able to set their own marijuana laws but has so far opposed full legalization at the federal level.
The MORE law would not legalize marijuana nationwide. While this would remove a huge hurdle to full legalization by removing federal restrictions, it would still be up to states to decide whether 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 in favor of legalizing marijuana – in the same election Biden won – including conservative Montana and South Dakota.
One potential hurdle for legalization: The US would technically violate a number of international drug control treaties that prohibit signatories from allowing recreational marijuana – and various other currently illegal drugs. But other countries like Canada and Uruguay have legalized marijuana by effectively ignoring the treaties.
Proponents of legalization argue that it will remove the harms of the marijuana ban: the hundreds of thousands of arrests in the US, the racial differences behind those arrests, and the billions of dollars flowing from the illegal marijuana black market to drug cartels that then use the money for violent operations around the world. All of this, according to proponents of legalization, will outweigh any potential downsides – such as increased cannabis use – that could come with legalization.
Opponents, however, claim that legalization will enable a huge marijuana industry to irresponsibly market the drug. They particularly point to America’s experience of the alcohol and tobacco industries, which have built their financial empire in large part around some of the heaviest consumers of their products. This could lead to more people using pot, even if it has negative health consequences.
At least in the US house, supporters won the day.
For more information on legalizing marijuana, see Vox’s statement.
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