marijuana worker

Raul Rojo harvests Tahoe OG cannabis plants, which are being tracked using barcodes, at THC Design in Los Angeles on Tuesday, September 18, 2018. (Photo: Sarah Reingewirtz/Digital First Media/Pasadena Star-News via Getty Images)

'We Did It': House Passes Bill to Decriminalize Marijuana, Expunge Convictions

"Though it will not erase the pain millions of people have experienced," said one activist, "passage of the MORE Act does provide hope that a better future lies ahead."

Drug policy reform advocates and progressive lawmakers on Friday celebrated the U.S. House of Representatives' approval of a bill to decriminalize marijuana nationwide, expunge federal cannabis convictions and arrests, and provide resources for communities targeted by the war on drugs.

"Now, it's up to the Senate to finish the job."

"We did it," said Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) after announcing the 220-204 vote, which was mostly along party lines, with just three Republicans joining all but two Democrats in supporting the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act (H.R. 3617).

Lee had joined with Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas), Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), Nydia Velazquez (D-N.Y.), and Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.)--chair of the House Judiciary Committee and the MORE Act's lead sponsor--to introduce the measure. All six lawmakers are members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC).

"Today, the House of Representatives advances a key progressive priority to end one of the most unjust vestiges of the racist war on drugs with the passage of the MORE Act," said Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), chair of the CPC, following the vote. "The House passage of this comprehensive bill is a victory for racial, economic, and criminal justice."

Noting that "studies show a Black person is 3.64 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than a white person, even though Black and white people use marijuana at similar rates," Jayapal highlighted:

Not only does the MORE Act decriminalize marijuana, but it also takes on mass incarceration by eliminating criminal penalties for an individual who manufactures, distributes, or possesses marijuana, and establishing a process to expunge marijuana-related convictions. And it works to address the generational denial of economic opportunity that has resulted from the targeting of Black and Brown people through marijuana criminalization by prohibiting the denial of federal public benefits and of immigration protections based on marijuana conduct, and establishing a trust fund for individuals and businesses in impacted communities.

"The Progressive Caucus joins our colleagues in Congress, advocates across the country, and the overwhelming majority of Americans who support decriminalizing marijuana in celebrating today's vote," she added, "and we will continue to work for the MORE Act to become law."

Maritza Perez, director of the Office of National Affairs at the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), was among the advocates welcoming the development, declaring that "thanks to the House's leadership, today we are one step closer to seeking justice for the countless communities that have been devastated as a result of cruel and racially targeted marijuana prohibition."

"Though it will not erase the pain millions of people have experienced; restore the economic, educational, and career opportunities they have been robbed of; or give them back the time they have lost with their families, passage of the MORE Act does provide hope that a better future lies ahead--one where arrest records are wiped clean, new opportunities to take part in the legal marijuana industry exist, and desperately needed resources are redirected back into the communities that have been most harmed," Perez added.

While thanking the sponsors and Democratic leaders who have fought for the bill, she emphasized that "now, it's up to the Senate to finish the job--it must begin to deliver on long-overdue justice to end the status quo of racist and counterproductive enforcement. With more than two-thirds of Americans in favor of reform, it should be a swift and easy choice."

NORML political director Morgan Fox also applauded the vote, calling it "a clear indicator that Congress is finally listening to the vast majority of voters who are sick and tired of our failed marijuana criminalization policies and the damage they continue to inflict in communities across the nation every day."

"It is long overdue that we stop punishing adults for using a substance that is objectively safer than alcohol, and that we work to address the disparate negative impacts that prohibition has inflicted on our most vulnerable individuals and marginalized communities for nearly a century," said Fox.

"The time has come for federal lawmakers to put aside partisan differences and recognize that state-level legalization policies are publicly popular, successful, and are in the best interests of our country," he added. "Now that the House has once again supported sensible and comprehensive cannabis policy reform, we strongly urge the Senate to move forward on this issue without delay."

The MORE Act faces an uphill battle in the evenly split Senate, where the filibuster enables the GOP to block many bills and at least two Democrats--Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire--"have expressed skepticism about the proposal," as The Hill noted Friday.

Meanwhile, as Marijuana Momentreported:

Advocates and stakeholders are eagerly awaiting the formal introduction of a separate Senate legalization bill that's being finalized by Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and colleagues. Schumer recently said the plan is to file that bill--the Cannabis Administration & Opportunity Act (CAOA)--in April.

Also in Congress, a separate bill to tax and regulate marijuana is... in play this session. Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.) is sponsoring that legislation, and she said in a recent interview that she's received assurances from Democratic leaders that her States Reform Act will receive a hearing following the MORE Act floor vote.

Speaking on the House floor Friday about how the MORE Act "would set a new path forward and would begin to correct some of the injustices of the last 50 years," Nadler also pointed out that the measure reflects what a clear majority of Americans want.

Nadler explained that in recent years, dozens of states "have legalized medical cannabis" while "19 states and the District of Columbia have legalized cannabis for adult recreational use."

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, "37 states, four territories, and the District of Columbia allow the medical use of cannabis products."

Since Colorado and Washington legalized adult recreational use of marijuana in 2012, 17 states, two territories, and D.C. have followed suit--moves that have mostly held up over the past decade. The exception is South Dakota: Voters approved a constitutional amendment in 2020 but the state Supreme Court struck it down last year.

Nadler said that "if states are the laboratories of democracy, it is long past time for the federal government to recognize that legalization has been a resounding success and that the conflict with federal law has become untenable."

"Criminal penalties for marijuana offenses, and the resulting collateral consequences, are unjust and harmful to our society," he added. "The MORE Act comprehensively addresses these injustices, and I urge all my colleagues to support this legislation."

This post has been updated to clarify how many regions have legalized medical and recreational cannabis.

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