House Votes to Decriminalize Marijuana: Manufacture, Distribution and Possession
Health and Gender Policy Brief #151 | By: Stephen Thomas | April 3, 2022
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By a vote of 220-204, the U.S. House of Representatives Friday, April 1, passed the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act or the MORE Act aimed at decriminalizing the manufacture, distribution, and possession of marijuana. New York Democrat and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Jerrold Nadler introduced the legislation, an unsuccessful version of which the House passed in 2020.
The vote was virtually along party lines with 217 Democrats and only three Republicans voting in favor of the legislation.
Many states have already addressed cannabis legalization. 36 states and the District of Columbia have legalized the use of marijuana for medical purposes and 19 states and D.C. have decriminalized adult recreational use of cannabis, Nadler said.
“If states are the laboratories of democracy, it is long past time for the federal government to recognize that legalization has been a resounding success and that the conflict with federal law has become untenable,” Nadler said in his April 1 floor statement, adding that “criminal penalties for marijuana offenses, and the resulting collateral consequences, are unjust and harmful to our society. The MORE Act comprehensively addresses these injustices…”
Enforcement of existing federal cannabis laws have had ethnic implications, according to the MORE Act. Indeed, Section 2 of the measure states that “A legacy of racial and ethnic injustices, compounded by the disproportionate collateral consequences of 80 years of cannabis prohibition enforcement, now limits participation in the industry.” Additionally, as the bill reads, “Fewer than one-fifth of cannabis business owners identify as minorities [and] historically disproportionate arrest and conviction rates make it particularly difficult for people of color to enter the legal cannabis marketplace, as most States bar these individuals from participating.”
The primary active ingredient in this marijuana decriminalization legislation is the striking of the word Marihuana [sic] from parts of the federal Controlled Substances Act.
The National Cannabis Industry Association backed the bill. There is, however, organized resistance, which surely will make its voice heard in the Senate.
“The effort to end criminalization from marijuana offenses–which we fully support–is being used to obfuscate the recklessness of this bill as it relates to public health,” Smart Approaches to Marijuana President Dr. Kevin Sabet said in a statement April 1. “The proponents of this bill continue to propagate the myth that marijuana is harmless, based on research from 50 years ago.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki pointed out following the bill’s House passage that “President [Joseph R. Biden Jr.] said, during the campaign, our current marijuana laws are not working.
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He agrees that we need to rethink our approach, including to address the racial disparities and systemic inequities in our criminal justice system, broaden research on the effects of marijuana, and support the safe use of marijuana for medical purposes.”
The bill ignores the very real mental health risks posed by today’s high-potency marijuana, which numerous studies have tied to the development of psychosis and schizophrenia. It includes little protection to ensure that the marijuana industry–backed by the major tobacco companies–isn’t marketing their products to minors and increasing the overall use of marijuana. As written, the MORE Act is a mess and irresponsible with respect to public health and safety considerations.”
According to Congress.gov, if the MORE Act passes in the Senate and is signed by the president, the measure would:
- Replace statutory references to marijuana and marihuana with cannabis
- Require the Bureau of Labor Statistics to regularly publish demographic data on cannabis business owners and employees
- Establish a trust fund to support various programs and services for individuals and businesses in communities impacted by the war on drugs
- Impose an excise tax on cannabis products produced in or imported into the United States and an occupational tax on cannabis production facilities and export warehouses
- Make Small Business Administration loans and services available to entities that are cannabis-related legitimate businesses or service providers
- Prohibit the denial of federal public benefits to a person because of certain cannabis-related conduct or convictions
- Prohibit the denial of benefits and protections under immigration laws because of a cannabis-related event (e.g., conduct or a conviction)
- Establish a process to expunge convictions and conduct sentencing review hearings related to federal cannabis offenses
- Direct the Government Accountability Office to study the societal impact of cannabis legalization
Unfortunately it is doubtful if the MORE ACT will pass in the Senate where Republicans are likely to filibuster and some Democrats may oppose the bill.
The results of a Gallup poll released Nov. 4, 2021, showed that 68 percent of respondents supported “legalizing marijuana.”
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