A landmark moment took place in November when a committee in the U.S. House of Representatives approved legislation that would legalize marijuana at the national level.
The bill, which would remove marijuana as a Schedule I illegal drug under the Controlled Substance Act, passed through the House Judiciary Committee by a vote of 24 to 10.
In explaining their vote, committee members said that legalizing marijuana at the national level would reverse decades of injustice during the War on Drugs started in the 1970s.
“The criminalization of marijuana has been a mistake,” said committee Chairman Rep. Jerrold Nadler, a Democrat from New York, according to CNBC. “The racial disparity in marijuana enforcement laws only compounded this mistake with serious consequences, particularly for minority communities.”
What Happens Now?
The bill will now go to the full House of Representatives for a vote. Democrats have 234 seats in the House, a majority. Because more Democrats favor legalization, many feel the bill has a good chance of passing.
The bill is called the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act, or MORE Act. In addition to removing marijuana from the list of illegal drugs, it would::
- Allow states to decide on their own marijuana policy
- Mandate that federal courts expunge prior convictions for marijuana offenses
- Impose a 5% tax on marijuana products
- Use the tax dollars to create a trust fund that would support those who are the most impacted by the “war on drugs,” including job training and treatment for substance abuse.
The vote came as polls have shown a majority of Americans support legalization. For example, a CBS News poll found 65% of Americans support legalization and a majority think marijuana is less dangerous than alcohol.
The Senate Roadblock to Legalization
The Republican members of Congress are expected to remain a substantial roadblock to legalization.
There have been some changes. For example, Republicans in Congress have become more interested recently in increasing access for veterans to medical marijuana, according to CBS. And Republicans voted for legalizing hemp in the 2018 Farm Bill.
However, most still oppose legalizing recreational marijuana (a position shared by Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden). That includes Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Republican from Kentucky who leads the Republican-controlled Senate.
House Rep. Ken Buck of Colorado, a House Judiciary Committee member, suggested before the vote that the committee not even consider the bill because it has little chance of passing.
“I don’t think a majority of the Republicans will support this bill,” he said, according to CNBC. “It is even less likely that the Senate would take it up. Therefore, I would just suggest that we deal with other bills that we can get a much larger bipartisan support from.”
Nadler, however, has said that there might be room for negotiation with the Senate if the bill passes the House. While his optimism is admirable, and the committee vote was big news, it is unlikely that full marijuana legalization will happen at the federal level until the political math changes in Washington.