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House Passes Historic Bill to Decriminalize Cannabis

Photo courtesy of Cropped Credit: Paxson Woelber / The Alaska Landmine / CC BY 2.0

The proposal would end a federal ban on marijuana and create a pathway to expunge related criminal records.

Posted: Dec 4, 2020 12:46 PM

NBC News-  As the cannabis industry continues to take root state by state, the House of Representatives voted in favor of removing marijuana from the federal Controlled Substances Act.

The House voted Friday on the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act, or MORE Act, which decriminalizes cannabis and clears the way to erase nonviolent federal marijuana convictions. The Senate is unlikely to approve the bill.

The MORE Act also creates pathways for ownership opportunities in the emerging industry, allows veterans to obtain medical cannabis recommendations from Veteran Affairs doctors, and establishes funding sources to reinvest in communities disproportionately affected by the war on drugs.

Friday's vote was the first time a full chamber of Congress has taken up the issue of federally decriminalizing cannabis. Of the vote count, 222 Democrats were in favor of passing the MORE Act and six were against it. Five Republicans voted in favor of it and 158 voted against passing it.

"It is the right thing to do," said co-sponsor of the MORE Act, Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus prior to Friday's vote. "For too long, the war on drugs has targeted young people, especially Black people, and rejected the advice of experts."

Blumenauer, whose congressional district includes parts of Portland, has been working to end cannabis prohibition since the 1970s, when he was in the state Legislature. He said that the drug war "never made any sense" to him and that it was instead born out of President Richard Nixon's "cynical" view on cannabis and other controlled substances.

Nixon declared a "war on drugs" in the early 1970s, calling drug abuse "public enemy number one" following the rise of recreational drugs in the 1960s. He aimed to reduce use, distribution and trade with tough enforcement and prison sentences.

Blumenaer said that unlike heroin and cocaine, both of which are also Schedule 1 drugs, cannabis is not addictive, and it has been found to have therapeutic properties for managing pain. (Research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other organizations indicates that marijuana can, indeed, be addictive.)

"Public acceptance is at an all-time high," he said. "This is an idea whose time has come."

Cannabis won big on Election Day last month. Voters in five states — Arizona, New Jersey, South Dakota, Montana and Mississippi — approved measures to legalize some form of marijuana use. Now, 15 states, two territories and Washington, D.C., have legalized recreational cannabis, while 34 states and two territories allow medical marijuana.

"For decades, discriminatory cannabis policies have perpetuated yet another form of systemic racism in America, and this legislation will begin the process of restorative justice for those most harmed," said Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., who co-sponsored the bill with Blumenauer.

In a joint letter to Congress, Lee and Blumenauer said their reform efforts underscore the "critical issue of racial justice, and the failed war on drugs that has devastated communities of color, especially Black and Brown communities."

"We can no longer ignore our duty to repair the damage that this harmful form of systemic racism has done," the letter read.

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