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Congressional Panel Votes to Legalize Marijuana

For the first time since the federal government criminalized marijuana, a Congressional committee has approved marijuana decriminalization legislation.

The Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, just approved by the House Judiciary Committee, would also require federal courts to expunge prior convictions for marijuana offenses, and allow states to set their own marijuana policies.

Additionally, the MORE Act calls for a federal tax on sales of marijuana products. Taxes collected would be designated to fund a trust for programs that help people disproportionately impacted by the “War on Drugs,” such as job training and substance abuse treatment.

“For far too long, we have treated marijuana as a criminal justice problem instead of a matter of personal health and public health,” House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-NY), the bill’s author, said. “Whatever one’s views on the use of marijuana for recreational or medicinal purposes, arresting, prosecuting and incarcerating users at the federal level is unwise and unjust.”

The MORE Act passed the Judiciary Committee by a vote of 24 to 10. It still must be approved by the full House and the Senate before it can become law. A companion bill was introduced in the Senate by Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) and is awaiting a consideration before the Senate Finance Committee.

The National Cannabis Industry Association described the House Judiciary Committee vote as “a huge win for the cannabis industry and a victory for justice.” Even though Senate approval is uncertain, NCIA said “every step forward is helping to bring the end of prohibition closer and we are picking up speed.”

Marijuana was federally criminalized by the Controlled Substances Act, which put it on par with addictive drugs like heroin. In recent years, 33 states have legalized the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes, and 11 states plus the District of Columbia have legalized adult recreational use of marijuana.

Public support for marijuana legalization is strong. A survey just published by the Pew Research Center revealed that majority of Americans favor legalization. Fifty-nine percent of adults think it should be legalized for medicinal and recreational uses; 32% say it should be legal only for medicinal uses. Just 8% said they opposed any type of marijuana legalization.

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