In a major milestone moment for marijuana advocates in the United States, the House of Representatives voted to pass legislation to legalize marijuana at the federal level on Friday, December 4th. This marks the first time that either chamber of Congress has voted on the legalization of marijuana.
What Does This Mean?
The bill, called the MORE Act (Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement Act), would decriminalize marijuana at the federal level, but it would still be up to each State to decide how they would continue to regulate the substance. A growing number of states have decriminalized or legalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana, but according to FBI data, more arrests are still made for marijuana offenses than for any other drug. We should hopefully begin to see those numbers decreasing due to the fact that medical marijuana is now legal in 36 states, and 15 states have made marijuana legal for adults to use.
The bill would also expunge some marijuana-related criminal records, which could change people’s lives who have a record due to marijuana-related possession charges.
As Representative Jerry Nadler pointed out, “This long-overdue legislation would reverse the failed policy of criminalizing marijuana on the federal level and would take steps to address the heavy toll this policy has taken across the country, particularly on communities of color.”
It has been well-documented that marijuana-related charges have been unfairly one-sided toward people of color in the ongoing racial disparity that is the United States. An American Civil Liberties Union report analyzing marijuana-related arrests from 2010 to 2018 found that Black people were 3.64 times more likely than white people to be arrested for marijuana possession.
President-elect Joe Biden’s stance on marijuana is that he is for decriminalizing the drug, and has called for expunging convictions for marijuana use, but he is on the fence about legalizing it and would like to leave this decision up to the individual states to decide.
What Happens Next?
To no one’s surprise, there has been much scrutiny about bringing this particular bill up to pass when the US is in the midst of the worst pandemic crisis the world has seen in a century. Members of parliament are concerned that this may not be the right time to discuss decriminalizing marijuana. But, really, when is the right time?
The bill will now need to be voted on and passed by the Senate, which is no easy feat. Although the bill will likely change somewhat, and won’t be voted on this congressional session or the next one, this is a victory for marijuana legalization and decriminalization activists and really shows how much opinions have changed on marijuana in such a short period of time. It’s definitely a step forward and in the right direction.