WASHINGTON — The Democratic-led House of Representatives voted to legalize cannabis on the federal level, and while the historic vote happened on April 1, this was no April Fool’s Day joke. The 220-204 vote came down mostly on party lines as all but two Democrats voted for the measure, with only three Republicans backing full legalization.
If the bill were to pass in the Senate, it would be up to the individual states to set cannabis policy. Unfortunately, the Republican-led Senate is expected to block federal reforms of cannabis law that have fueled the Drug War and resulted in more Americans being jailed for cannabis in 2019 than many violent crimes combined. Recent polling indicates that most Americans support the federal legalization of cannabis.
Majority leader Steny Hoyer spoke on the floor of the House during the session, pointing out the racial disparities that federal prohibition of cannabis has generated.
“I was a supporter of the War on Drugs — I’ve been here a long time,” said Hoyer. He referenced the sad statistic that Black Americans are as many as four times more likely to be arrested on minor cannabis offenses than white Americans. “This bill is a matter of justice and equal opportunity… so that Americans and America can become a better, stronger, fairer, and more just America,” he added.
During the 2020 election, voters approved cannabis legalization and retail sales in Arizona, Montana, New Jersey, and South Dakota, another sign of broad support for total legalization.
The MORE Act, passed by the House, would compel federal courts to expunge prior cannabis convictions and hold resentencing hearings for those still completing sentences. The measure would also allow a 5% tax on cannabis and cannabis products, incrementally increasing to 8% over the years. That tax revenue would be allocated to job training programs, legal aid, and drug treatment. A portion of those funds would also be directed toward social equity, assisting disadvantaged businesses to enter the cannabis industry.
According to the Congressional Budget Office, the passage of the MORE Act would result in thousands of current inmates receiving an early release, saving $800 million over ten years and reducing the federal deficit by as much as $3 billion over the coming decade.
Citing the disproportionate targeting of communities of color under our current cannabis laws, California’s Rep. Barbara Lee said, “Make no mistake, yes, it is a racial justice bill.”
“Those criminal records can haunt people of color and impact the trajectory of their lives indefinitely,” Hoyer added. “I regret that there are some members of our Congress who apparently think that’s not worthy of attention.”
Vivian McPeak is a Seattle based social justice activist, media personality, and writer. Vivian is the president of Seattle Events, a Non-Profit Organization, producer of the Seattle HEMPFEST®, the world’s largest annual cannabis policy reform rally. The recipient of the High Times Magazine 2012 Lester Grinspoon Lifetime Achievement Award and DOPE Magazine 2016 Emery Award for lifetime achievement, and in 2016 he was named one of the “50 Most Influential People” by Seattle Magazine. Vivian has appeared on numerous television and cable news networks, including FOX News, CNN, & NBC. McPeak is the host of Hempresent, a weekly radio podcast on Cannabis Radio with listeners on multiple continents.