The House of Representatives approved legislation Friday decriminalizing marijuana and attempting to “address the devastating injustices caused by the War on Drugs.”
The vote in the Democratic-led chamber marks the first time in U.S. history a chamber of Congress has voted on federal decriminalization, although the bill has almost no chance to pass in the Republican led Senate.
The MORE Act would remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act and eliminate criminal penalties for those who grow, manufacture and sell marijuana. The act would also create a process for removing previous marijuana convictions and conduct sentencing review hearings for felony convictions.
The act would also authorize a five percent sales tax on marijuana products that would be used for investments in job training, legal aid and substance abuse treatment for individuals that have been impacted by the war on drugs. The revenue would also provide funds for small business loans and access to marijuana licensing and employment.
222 Democrats, five Republicans and Justin Amash, a libertarian voted in favor of decriminalization while 158 Republicans and six Democrats voted against. The Republicans who voted decriminalization included Florida Rep Matt Gaetz, who co-sponsored the bill, Brian Mast (Florida), Denver Riggleman (Virginia), Tom McClintock (California) and Don Young (Alaska).
According to the New York Times, Republicans who voted against decriminalization considered the vote nothing more than a superficial distraction from negotiations and work on a second coronavirus stimulus package.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell criticized the House for moving on the bill during a time when the coronavirus is on everyone’s mind.
“The House of Representatives is spending this week on pressing issues like marijuana. You know, serious and important legislation befitting this national crisis,” McConnell said sarcastically on the Senate floor Friday according to CNN.
However, others see the vote alone as a milestone mark in the fight for legalization. Marijuana has gone from a gateway drug in the 1980s, to a legal purchase in multiple states today.
Jose Chapa, Senior Policy Associate at the Immigrant Defense Project said nationwide decriminalization would also help immigrants who are arrested and deported for marijuana possession.
“Thousands of immigrants have been deported as a result of marijuana convictions,” Chapa told Black Enterprise. “This house bill sets precedent for the upcoming congress and Biden administration to end this needless destruction of immigrant families and communities.”