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What Does Congress’ Vote To Decriminalize Marijuana At The Federal Level Mean?

Updated on
January 15, 2021
Article written by
Attorney Kevin O'Flaherty

This article will discuss the recent vote to decriminalize marijuana and what the means for the country. We will answer the following questions:


  • What is the MORE Act?
  • What is decriminalization?
  • How can marijuana be legal in certain states but illegal for the country?
  • Does passing in The House of Representatives affect the current law?


For the first time in U.S. history, The House of Representatives passed a bill that would federally decriminalize marijuana. The vote comes as many states have legalized the production, sale, and use of marijuana at varying levels. But does passing in The House change anything? And what exactly does the bill propose?


What Is The MORE Act?


The Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment, and Expungement Act of 2019 is a bill sponsored by former California senator and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris. The bill proposes to decriminalize marijuana by removing it from the United States list of controlled substances, in addition to establishing the following reforms:


  • Free up Small Business Administration loans for marijuana-related businesses;
  • Prohibit the denial of federal benefits based on past marijuana-related conduct or convictions for U.S. citizens and immigrants;
  • Eliminate federal criminal penalties on cannabis, and institute a system “to expunge past convictions and conduct sentencing review hearings related to federal cannabis offenses; and
  • Add a 5% tax on all marijuana sales and place that money into a federal fund that runs programs to assist areas significantly affected by the war on drugs.


What Is Decriminalization?


The passage of the Controlled Substances Act in 1970 introduced laws prohibiting the production, sale, and possession of marijuana anywhere in the country. As a direct result, the number of incarcerations due to marijuana-related activity skyrocketed, reaching nearly 50% of all drug-related arrests and convictions. Federally, marijuana is on the same level as other Schedule 1 drugs such as cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine. Legalization would remove all prohibitions against marijuana, not something the MORE Act is looking to do.


Decriminalization removes the preexisting criminal sanctions against a behavior, action, possession, drug, etc. Under decriminalization, marijuana remains illegal, but the federal government will not pursue criminal penalties against individuals possessing less than a certain amount. States and the government can still levy fines and citations against users who smoke in public or appear publicly intoxicated due to marijuana use. Actions such as driving under the influence of marijuana, possessing a large amount of marijuana, and clear intentions to traffic and sell marijuana without a license remain criminally illegal under the bill. Ultimately, the decriminalization of marijuana allows the police and the justice system to focus on higher-level crimes and eases the increasing burden placed on the country under the current prison system.


How Can Marijuana Be Legal In Certain States, But Illegal For The Country?


Starting in 2013, the Obama administration’s justice department allowed states to enact their own rules regarding the production, sale, and possession of marijuana. While it’s still too early to grasp the long-term consequences of legalizing marijuana, many states are welcoming the increased revenue from marijuana sales. 


Does Passing In The House Of Representatives Affect The Current Law?


No. The bill would still need to pass in the Senate. Until marijuana is federally decriminalized or legalized, the decision on how to handle the substance is under state control.


What Does Congress’ Vote To Decriminalize Marijuana At The Federal Level Mean?
Author

Attorney Kevin O'Flaherty

Kevin O’Flaherty is a graduate of the University of Iowa and Chicago-Kent College of Law. He has experience in litigation, estate planning, bankruptcy, real estate, and comprehensive business representation.

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