House Panel Approves Marijuana Decriminalization Bill

Topline: A Congressional committee approved a landmark bill Wednesday that would decriminalize and tax marijuana on the federal level⁠—but it’s unclear if or when the House would vote on it, and whether it could ever pass a Republican-controlled Senate. 

  • The bill, approved by the House Judiciary Committee, contains a provision that removes marijuana from the federal list of Schedule 1 drugs, which includes heroin and ecstasy.
  • If made into law, the bill would allow states to create their own policies, clear criminal records of people who have low-level marijuana offenses, allow the Department of Veterans Affairs to recommend cannabis to service members and create a 5% tax on cannabis products to fund job training, legal aid and services to people negatively impacted by the war on drugs.
  • Although the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws calls the bill’s approval the “biggest marijuana news of the year,” the legislation has not set date for additional committee reviews or a House vote, and is expected to face a tough audience in the Senate.
  • The bill hasn’t been scheduled for another committee, or for a full House vote yet, keeping its future in doubt. 
  • Democrat and judiciary chair Jerry Nadler said that the bill’s language can be negotiated, and added, “I don’t think it’s a good idea … to say, ‘the Senate won’t take this bill, When the House passes a bill, it’s part of a continuing process. It’s not the end of a process.”

Big number: 50. That’s the number of co-sponsors on the bill. Presidential candidates Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris and Cory Booker are backers on the Senate’s version. 

Key background: Congress passed the first law effectively criminalizing marijuana in 1937, and in 1956 passed another law that set mandatory prison sentences for drug-related offenses which included marijuana. Despite Republicans’ opposition to cannabis, 11 states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for recreational usage, while medical marijuana is legal in 33 states plus D.C. As of last week, the Pew Research Center found that two out of three Americans support legalization.

Tangent: Joe Biden said during a weekend Las Vegas town hall that not “enough evidence” exists to prove whether marijuana is a “gateway drug.” Research, however, says the majority of people who use marijuana do not “go on to use other, ‘harder’ substances,” according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. An alternate theory suggests that people who use drugs are predisposed to do so, and that drive is not linked to any specific drug.

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