House passes historic bill to legalize marijuana

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House Democrats passed a historic bill Friday that would legalize marijuana on a federal level, the first time the issue garnered a vote on either side of the Capitol.

The bill passed on a 228-164 vote, though it’s unlikely to get any traction in the GOP-controlled Senate.

Introduced by House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler, New York Democrat, the bill would remove marijuana from the federal list of controlled substances and expunge some related criminal records. States would still be allowed to determine their own laws on selling marijuana.

It would also create a 5% sales tax on marijuana products, which would fund programs such as job training, legal aid, substance abuse treatment and small-business loans for “individuals most adversely impacted by the War on Drugs.”

For Democrats, the bill also serves as a way to address racial issues for communities of color.

“The War on Drugs targeting communities of color primarily has resulted in the advent of the prison industrial complex that has fed on and consumed the lives of individual families,” said Rep. Hank Johnson, Georgia Democrat. “The criminalization of marijuana was used to disenfranchise an entire generation of Black men and women. The MORE Act is an important step forward towards more enlightened policy.”

The ACLU released a report that found Black Americans were more than three times more likely than White Americans on a national basis to be arrested for marijuana.

Rep. Jim Jordan pushed back on the bill, highlighting issues with the tax provision that would end up creating several grant programs.

“This bill, it’s not enough to legalize marijuana, they want taxpayers to pay for it,” said Mr. Jordan, Ohio Republican. “This bill sets up a grant program. This is the marijuana business infrastructure bill. It sets up an office in the Department of Justice.”

However, Rep. Matt Gaetz, Florida Republican, was a co-sponsor of the legislation and argued his party was out of step with shifting public opinion.

“My Republican colleagues today will make a number of arguments against this bill, but those arguments are overwhelmingly losing with the American people,” he said. “In every state where cannabis reform was on the ballot in this country, it passed. It passed with overwhelming support.”

A Gallup poll released last month found that 68% of Americans support legalizing marijuana, a record high.

On Election Day, voters in five states — Arizona, New Jersey, South Dakota, Montana and Mississippi — voted to approve some form of marijuana legalization. This brings the total number of states approving recreational marijuana up to 15, while 36 states have approved medical marijuana.

But Republicans also criticized the bill because of its timing.

With a coronavirus stimulus package gaining optimism but still far from a finalized deal, Republicans hammered Democratic leadership for putting marijuana legalization to a vote before any coronavirus relief proposals.

“The House of Representatives is spending this week on pressing issues like marijuana. You know, serious and important legislation befitting this national crisis,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, said while touting his own relief proposal.

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