By Patricia Whyte
In a historic vote today, a congressional committee has approved a bill to end federal marijuana prohibition.
The Democratic-controlled House Judiciary Committee passed the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act today in a 24-10 vote. The bill decriminalizes marijuana at the federal level, removing it from the Controlled Substances Act entirely. Additionally, the bill also requires federal courts to expunge prior cannabis-related convictions, provide grants and funding to communities most harmed or failed by the war on drugs, and allow physicians affiliated with the Veterans Administration to recommend medical cannabis.
The vote saw two Republicans, Reps. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) and Tom McClintock (R-CA), join their Democratic colleagues in support of the bill. Many Republicans argued the bill was being rushed and should be subject to additional hearings, while Democratic members claimed there’s been enough debate on the issue. Ultimately it was decided there’s no time for delay in beginning to reverse decades of harm of prohibition enforcement.
The approved legislation would also create a pathway for resentencing for those incarcerated for cannabis use, as well as protect immigrants from being denied citizenship over cannabis and prevent federal agencies from denying public benefits or security clearance due to its use. The bill was introduced by Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY).
“These steps are long overdue. For far too long we’ve treated marijuana as a criminal justice problem instead of a matter of personal choice and public health,” Nadler said in his opening remarks. “Arresting, prosecuting and incarcerating people at the federal level is unwise and unjust.”
Nadler said while it was possible compromises could be made later in the legislative process, he doesn’t see the need to scale back the proposal’s reach at the onset. He is optimistic the legislation will get a full floor vote before the end of the current Congress
“I’ve long believed that the criminalization of marijuana has been a mistake,” he said. “The racially disparate enforcement of marijuana laws has only compounded this mistake with serious consequences, particularly for minority communities.”
This committee vote comes two months after the House approved a standalone marijuana reform bill for the first time in history; a bill that would protect banks that service state-legal cannabis businesses from being penalized by federal regulators. Many expect the MORE Act to receive a favorable vote if it reaches the House floor, however, the bill’s fate in the Senate is less certain.
The discourse surrounding this bill is significant as it represents the first of its kind that isn’t simply a debate about whether cannabis prohibition should be ended, but an actual vote on a bill that would accomplish legalization.
Legalization is within reach. To add your voice to this fight, reach out to your Senators and encourage them to pass the MORE Act! To find your senator and how to contact them, visit The United States Senate website.
Patricia Whyte is a staff editor for Honeysuckle Magazine. She has been previously published for The Fordham Ram and Untapped Cities. She is currently a junior studying journalism at Fordham University.