Cannabis Decriminalization Bill Passes Historic House Judiciary Committee Vote

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The cannabis industry inched one step closer to ending marijuana prohibition in the U.S. yesterday.

In a historic moment, the U.S. House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday approved a bill by a vote of 24-10 that would decriminalize marijuana at the federal level and create a 5% tax on all cannabis products.

Introduced by committee chairman Jerrold “Jerry” Nadler (D-NY) in late July, the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment, and Expungement (MORE) Act of 2019 would remove marijuana from Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act, which includes drugs like heroin and LSD.

It would also create a Cannabis Justice Office tasked with administering grants to individuals most adversely impacted by the War on Drugs and require federal courts to expunge cannabis-related offenses within one year of its passage.

“I have long believed that the criminalization of marijuana has been a mistake, and the racially disparate enforcement of marijuana laws has only compounded this mistake, with serious consequences, particularly for minority communities,” Nadler said in his opening address.

Yesterday’s vote marks the first time a congressional committee has passed a bill that would legalize marijuana at the federal level. Earlier this year, the House passed the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act, which would protect financial institutions that work with state-approved cannabis companies.

In a statement, National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA) executive director Aaron Smith said Wednesday’s committee vote marked a “turning point for federal cannabis policy, and is truly a sign that prohibition’s days are numbered.”

However, the MORE Act still has to clear a number of hurdles before it can be signed into law. Seven more House committees must take up the bill before it advances to a full House vote.

If the bill were to pass in the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives, the odds of the MORE Act being approved in a Republican-controlled Senate are slim. According to GovTrack, the bill only has an 18% chance of passing.

It’s worth noting that two Republicans – Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) and Rep. Tom McClintock (R-CA) – voted alongside Democrats yesterday to pass the bill.

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Despite the long odds, industry stakeholders heralded yesterday’s vote as a key victory in the fight to legalize marijuana.

“This is a truly historic moment in our nation’s political history,” Erik Altieri, the executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) said. “For the first time, a Congressional committee has approved far-reaching legislation to not just put an end to federal marijuana prohibition, but to address the countless harms our prohibitionist policies have wrought, notably on communities of color and other already marginalized groups.”

According to NORML, over 663,000 Americans were arrested for marijuana-related crimes in 2018.

A majority of Americans are now in favor of federal cannabis legalization, according to multiple surveys. A recent report from the Pew Research Center found that 67% of Americans believe the use of marijuana should be legal.

As THCnet previously reported, legal U.S. cannabis sales reached $9.8 Billion in 2018, according to BDS Analytics, which tracks sales in the cannabis industry. By 2024, U.S. consumer spending on cannabis products could reach $30 billion.

Eleven states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for recreational use. Meanwhile, 33 states have legalized medical cannabis sales and 47 states have reformed cannabis laws.

“This vote brings us one step closer to ending the disaster that is prohibition and repairing the harms it has caused while we continue the discussion in Congress about how to best regulate cannabis at the federal level,” Smith said via the release. “We urge lawmakers to move forward with this necessary bill without delay.”

For his part, Neal Levine, CEO of the Cannabis Trade Federation, a national coalition of cannabis-related businesses, called the vote a “historic step forward for cannabis policy reform at the federal level.”

“These votes demonstrate the broad bipartisan support that exists in Congress for allowing states to determine their own cannabis policies,” he said. “There appears to be a consensus among both parties that the conflict between state and federal cannabis laws is untenable and needs to be resolved. We encourage our allies in the Democratic and Republican parties come together to find a bipartisan path forward and pass a law this Congress.”