WASHINGTON (AP) – The democratically controlled house passed a bill on Friday to decriminalize and tax marijuana at the federal level. The bill would reverse what proponents referred to as a failed policy of criminalizing pot use and take steps to eradicate racial differences in enforcing federal drug laws.
Opponents, mostly Republicans, called the bill a hollow political gesture and mocked the Democrats for bringing it forward at a time when thousands of Americans were dying from the coronavirus pandemic.
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Proponents say it would help reverse the adverse effects of the decades-long "war on drugs" by removing marijuana or cannabis from the list of state-controlled substances while allowing states to set their own rules on the pot. The bill would also use money from an excise tax on marijuana to meet the needs of groups and communities harmed by the drug war and to provide for the federal eradication of convictions and arrests of marijuana.
"For far too long we have treated marijuana as a criminal justice issue rather than a matter of personal choice and public health," said Rep. Jerry Nadler, DN.Y., chairman of the House Judiciary Committee and primary sponsor of the bill. "Whatever one thinks about the recreational or medicinal use of marijuana, federal arrest, prosecution and incarceration policies have proven ill-advised and unjust."
The vote comes at a time when most Americans live in states where marijuana is legal in any form, and lawmakers from both parties agreed that national cannabis policy has lagged far behind changes at the state level. This divide has caused a number of problems – loans and other banking services, for example, are hard to come by for many marijuana companies as the pot remains illegal at the federal level.
The law would also open up more opportunities for marijuana businesses, including access to Small Business Administration loans to ensure minorities can participate in an industry dominated by white farmers and farmers.
The bill, which was passed between 228 and 164, now goes to the Republican-controlled Senate where it is unlikely to move forward. A corresponding bill to give top companies access to traditional banking services has failed in the Senate after it was approved by the House of Representatives last year.