The US House of Representatives just voted to decriminalize cannabis, which is the most major move towards a change in national drug policy that the country has seen since the plant was initially banned.
On Friday, Congress voted to pass the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act, which is the first time that Congress has ever voted on cannabis decriminalization.
The final vote was 228-164 in favor of the legislation. Most Republicans and six Democrats opposed the bill.
However, the bill faces major opposition in the Republican-controlled Senate, where it will need a majority vote in order to proceed.
The House has voted to decriminalize marijuana.
The vote was 228-to-164 and marked the first time either chamber of Congress has voted on the issue of federally decriminalizing cannabis. https://t.co/qSIh1rjquN
— Kyle Griffin (@kylegriffin1) December 4, 2020
Regardless of what the Senate decides, more states are choosing to legalize or decriminalize the plant on their own. This election year, four more states voted to legalize cannabis, Arizona, Montana, New Jersey, and South Dakota.
Now there are a total of 15 states where cannabis is entirely legal, and 38 that allow medical cannabis, although both are still considered illegal on a federal level, which causes major challenges for the industry and legal users.
A vast majority of Americans now support cannabis legalization according to nearly every poll that is taken, and this support is stretched across both Democrat and Republican voters.
BREAKING: US House passes historic bill that would decriminalize cannabis and clear the way to erase nonviolent federal marijuana convictions; bill moves to US Senate. https://t.co/7OGkOAyzN4
— NBC News (@NBCNews) December 4, 2020
“We’re not rushing to legalize marijuana. The American people have already done that. We’re here because Congress has failed to deal with a disastrous war on drugs and do its part for the over 15 million marijuana users in every one of your districts,” said Rep. Earl Blumenauer, an Oregon Democrat and one of the bill primary authors, said on Friday during the vote.
“It’s time for Congress to step up and do its part. We need to catch up with the rest of the American people,” he said.
If the bill passes, it would remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act, allowing states to regulate it according to their own local politics. It would also expunge past convictions for cannabis possession and require resentencing for those in prison for the plant.
The bill would also ban government agencies from using marijuana as a reason to deny people federally subsidized housing or to adversely impact their immigration status.
According to the FBI’s recent Uniform Crime Report, more people were arrested for cannabis possession last year than for all violent crimes put together.
The data showed that 545,602 people were arrested in the US for cannabis-related crimes last year. Meanwhile, just 495,871 people were arrested for violent crimes.
Furthermore, the vast majority of the people who got arrested for cannabis were not accused of selling or trafficking the substance, but just for simple possession. 500,395 of the total cannabis arrests last year, or about 92%, were for possession, which is still more than the number of people who were arrested for violent crimes.
Overall, cannabis arrests have been going down nationwide due to the spread of legalization. Last year, cannabis arrests were down by 18% when compared with 2018.
As suspected, the FBI’s data showed that people were less likely to get arrested for cannabis in states where it was legal or available for medical use, with eastern states seeing far more arrests.
According to the report, roughly 53% of all cannabis arrests last year took place in the northeastern part of the country, where cannabis laws are still catching up with the west.