House Passes Bill to Legalize Marijuana

Backers say measure corrects a racial injustice
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 1, 2022 2:26 PM CDT
House Passes Bill Decriminalizing Sale, Use of Pot
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, shown in August, said current marijuana penalties have been especially harmful to people of color.   (AP Photo/Amanda Andrade-Rhoades, File)

The House approved legislation Friday to end all federal criminal penalties over the manufacture, distribution, or possession of marijuana. Speaker Nancy Pelosi told the House the measure rights injustices and is "one of the most important criminal justice reform bills in recent history." The legislation cleared 220-204 and now goes to the Senate, which already has a similar bill in the works. It's not clear that either has the 60 votes needed for passage, CNN reports. All but two House Democrats—Reps. Henry Cuellar and Chris Pappas—voted in favor, per the Hill. Three Republicans voted yes: Reps. Matt Gaetz, Brian Mast, and Tom McClintock.

The House bill sets up a process for expunging convictions for nonviolent marijuana offenses, per CNBC. A record of those convictions "can haunt people of color and impact the trajectory of their lives and career indefinitely," said Majority Leader Steny Hoyer. "It can result in difficulty finding employment, difficulty finding housing, denial of access of federal benefits, denial of financial aid at colleges and universities, and denial of the right to vote." Federal agencies would no longer be able to deny security clearances to workers over cannabis use. A new federal tax on marijuana sales would begin at 5% and rise to 8% over five years, per the Hill.

The money would go to programs to help communities recover from the government's war on drugs policies that enacted the harsh penalties for marijuana distribution and use. "Make no mistake: Yes, it is a racial justice bill,” said Democratic Rep. Barbara Lee. The American Civil Liberties Union has found that though marijuana use among white and Black people is roughly equal, Black users are arrested for possession almost four times as often as white people. Pelosi and Rep. Jerry Nadler, the main sponsor, said the bill also aligns the federal government with the states, many of which have made marijuana legal to some degree. Those legalizations are "a resounding success," Nadler said. (Read more marijuana legalization stories.)

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