The U.S. House passed legislation Friday to legalize marijuana nationally, but its future is much less clear in the Senate.
The House voted 220-204 to approve the measure, which would fix the split between federal law and 19 states where recreational marijuana is legal. Three Republicans joined all but two Democrats in approving the measure.
The House bill would remove marijuana from the controlled substances list, expunge convictions for federal marijuana crimes and add a 5% federal sales tax that would fund programs meant to improve communities harmed by marijuana prohibition.
Racial justice – Democratic backers in the House emphasized its racial justice components. People of color are more likely to be arrested and convicted for marijuana crimes, even though they use the drug at similar rates as white people.
The bill would raise potentially hundreds of millions in new tax dollars annually and use them to fund local grant programs for job-training, literacy, youth recreation and more. It would also provide loans for small businesses for legitimate marijuana enterprises.
GOP opposition – Republicans raised a litany of objections to the bill. Congress should focus on inflation, illegal immigration, crime and the war in Ukraine, rather than legalizing marijuana, several GOP members said.
“Record gas prices, record number of illegal immigrants crossing our Southern border, and what are Democrats doing today?” Ohio Republican Jim Jordan said. “Legalizing drugs and using American tax dollars to kick-start and prop up the marijuana industry. Wow, what a deal for the American people.”
U.S. Rep. Cliff Bentz, who led the Republican debate against the bill, said local police in his Southern Oregon district were overwhelmed by cartels that continued marijuana operations even after the state legalized it.
The bill sets up penalties for failing to properly register a marijuana business but does not include any money to enforce that provision, he said.
The taxes on growers in the bill would also mean the price of legal marijuana would be about 30% higher than black-market products, leaving illegal growers with a still-lucrative market, Bentz said.
While Bentz said it has long been apparent legalization would come eventually, the current effort was “the wrong approach.”
Longtime legalization advocate U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer, an Oregon Democrat, said he agreed with Bentz about the problems associated with illegal marijuana production in their home state, which include mistreatment of immigrant laborers on illegal growing operations and black market marijuana.
But Blumenauer disagreed about the remedy. Federally legalizing the drug and regulating the industry would help solve the problems Bentz raised, Blumenauer said. “The problem of the cartels, the illegal activity, the black market, is a result of the fact that the federal government does not have its act together,” he said. “People across the country have acted to take it into their own hands. And as a result, we have a piecemeal approach.”
States legalize marijuana – While nearly every state has legalized or decriminalized marijuana to some degree, more are moving toward full legalization.
But advocates for federal legalization say the state-by-state approach has led to myriad problems. States are still dealing with legal gaps, like Louisiana laws that prohibit driving under the influence but do not expressly ban smoking marijuana in a moving vehicle.
Republicans argued the measure would not reduce crime, but Democrats said the bill would free authorities to pursue more serious offenses.
“Decriminalizing means cops spend less time busting people for marijuana possession and more time looking for people committing violent crime,” Tennessee Democrat Steve Cohen said. “That’s a better use of law enforcement time.”
Drivers impaired by marijuana – The House approved two amendments to the bill from moderate Democrats and defeated one from a more progressive member. New Jersey Democrat Josh Gottheimer’s amendment that would provide $10 million to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to develop methods to determine if a driver is impaired by marijuana passed.
The House also approved an amendment sponsored by Conor Lamb of Pennsylvania that would commission a study by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health on the impact of marijuana legalization in the workplace.
The House defeated an amendment from Maryland Democrat Jamie Raskin that would have stopped federal agencies from making marijuana use a reason for denying a security clearance.
By Jacob Fischler , of the Daily Montanan.
Full article can be found at dailymontana.com
Since 2012, 18 states, two territories and Washington, DC, have legalized recreational marijuana under local law. Most other states allow marijuana possession for medical purposes.
Montana was legalized in January of this year.