House Passes Bill to Federally Decriminalize Marijuana in Historic Vote

The bill is unlikely to pass the Republican-controlled Senate

U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi
U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Photo: SCOTT APPLEWHITE/POOL/AFP via Getty

The United States House of Representatives voted to pass a measure that would decriminalize marijuana use at the federal level, Friday. The historic vote marked the first time in the country's history that a chamber of Congress has voted on standalone marijuana decriminalization.

The bill passed down party lines, 228-164. Six Democrats opposed the measure, with only five Republicans voting in favor.

The measure, known as the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, would decriminalize cannabis on a federal level, removing it from the Controlled Substances Act and allowing states to enact their own policies regarding the substance.

It would also remove criminal penalties for those who manufacture, distribute, or possess marijuana. If passed, the bill would also "provide for expungement of certain cannabis offenses" and enact a five percent sales tax on marijuana products to invest in job training services and substance abuse treatment.

The House had delayed the bill months ago as worries mounted that it would be controversial enough to put certain lawmakers in the crosshairs on Election Day, Politico said.

California Sen. and incoming Vice President Kamala Harris introduced a companion bill in the Senate last summer, saying in a statement that marijuana should no longer be a crime.

"Times have changed — marijuana should not be a crime," the statement, released on her Senate website, read. "We need to start regulating marijuana, and expunge marijuana convictions from the records of millions of Americans so they can get on with their lives."

Despite House support, the bill is unlikely to pass the Republican-controlled Senate.

The medical use of marijuana is legal in the majority of states in the country and 15 states have passed measures that regulate its use for all adults.

Public support for legalizing marijuana has surged, with a recent Gallup poll finding that 64 percent of Americans are in favor of legalization, up from 44 percent in 2009.

Republicans have largely resisted shifting national attitudes on marijuana, though, with some criticizing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for focusing on the bill this week.

"The House of Representatives is spending this week on pressing issues like marijuana," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said earlier this week, adding sarcastically: "You know, serious and important legislation befitting this national crisis."

The incoming Biden-Harris administration has said it supports the decriminalization of marijuana, with Harris saying they would "automatically expunge all marijuana-use convictions and end incarceration for drug use alone" in a September town hall event.

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