Update: Landmark Marijuana Bill Passes House
UPDATE: In what is for sure a historical moment, the United States House just voted to decriminalize marijuana. This bill was viewed by many as a 'conversation starter' and not something that was likely to pass. So, this is a huge victory for marijuana advocates. However, it is not all good news. To become law, the bill would have to get taken up and passed by the Senate. At the moment, Senate Republicans are indicating they are not likely to pass or even consider the bill. But, then again, it is 2020. Anything is possible and many didn't think this thing ever had a chance to pass the House. So, anything is possible.
Over the last decade, America's view on marijuana and cannabis has changed drastically. What was once viewed as an illicit drug on the same level as other illegal substances is now being treated like alcohol. Dozens of states have legalized or decriminalized marijuana. Penalties for possession have gone prison time to minor fines. The world has changed. While all this has been done on a state level, there now is a major bill before congress that could end the federal ban and create a pathway to expunge criminal records related to marijuana possession.
The House is expected to vote today on the MORE Act. The bill would federally decriminalize cannabis and put a system in place for non-violent offenders to have their marijuana convictions erased. This is the first time that a full chamber of Congress will vote on a decriminalization bill. During President Richard Nixon's war on drugs, marijuana was classified a 'schedule 1' drug - which is how illicit drugs like cocaine and heroin are classified.
Advocates of the bill say that unlike other schedule 1 drugs, marijuana is not as addictive and doesn't have as many negative side effects. They also say that public acceptance is at an all-time high and that even super conservative states like Montana, South Dakota and Oklahoma are legalizing recreational use.
However, the bill does have many detractors who say it is bad policy. Arizona Representative Debbie Lesko told NBC News "It does nothing to deter the use of marijuana by children, fails to require a warning label on the health risks posed by marijuana, and disregards science that shows marijuana directly affects parts of the brain responsible for memory and learning."
Whether this bill ultimately passes or not remains to be seen. But, no matter what happens, this is the first major step towards decriminalization on a national level and gets the conversation started in a major way.