WASHINGTON — The House passed legislation Friday that would legalize marijuana nationwide, eliminating criminal penalties for anyone who manufactures, distributes or possesses the substance.
Lawmakers approved the measure 220-204 in a largely party-line vote. Republicans Tom McClintock of California and Matt Gaetz and Brian Mast of Florida voted in favor of the legislation, while Democrats Chris Pappas of New Hampshire and Henry Cueller of Texas voted against it.
The legislation, dubbed the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act, passed in the House last year, but did not move forward in the Senate. In addition to decriminalizing marijuana at the federal level, the bill would establish procedures for expunging previous convictions from people's records and impose a tax on the sale of cannabis products.
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The tax would begin at 5 percent and eventually increase to 8 percent. Funding raised through the tax would go toward a fund to provide job training, mentoring, substance-use treatment, legal aid, re-entry services and youth recreation programs. It would also provide loans to help small businesses in the cannabis industry that are "owned and controlled by socially and economically disadvantaged individuals," a summary of the bill said.
"This landmark legislation is one of the most important criminal justice reform bills in recent history," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said in remarks on the floor Thursday about the measure.
Pelosi said the legislation would deliver "justice for those harmed by the brutal, unfair consequences of criminalization," open opportunities for people to participate in the industry and decriminalize pot at the federal level "so we do not repeat the grave mistakes of our past."
Several advocacy groups applauded passage of the measure Friday, including the Marijuana Policy Project.
“To this day, people across the country are still experiencing the damaging effects of the war on cannabis, while others are profiting in the industry,” said Toi Hutchinson, president and CEO of the organization. “Following today’s action in the House, it is now time for the U.S. Senate to follow suit and take up the MORE Act.”
Morgan Fox, the political director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, said, "The time has come for federal lawmakers to put aside partisan differences and recognize that state-level legalization policies are publicly popular, successful, and are in the best interests of our country."
Thirty-seven states and Washington, D.C. have enacted laws legalizing medical marijuana, with 18 states and D.C. legalizing marijuana for recreational purposes, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. California became the first state to legalize medical marijuana in 1996. Pelosi highlighted the changes made at the state level over the last few decades.
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"Now it is time for the federal government to follow suit," she said.
Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., has been working with Sens. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Cory Booker, D-N.J., to craft similar legalization legislation in their chamber. Prospects for passing such a bill in the Senate appear to be low because Democrats would need all of their members and 10 Republicans to overcome a 60-vote hurdle needed to advance to a final vote.