Prospects in the Senate remain in question
The U.S. House passed legislation Friday to legalize marijuana nationally, but its future is much less clear in the Senate.
The House voted 220-204 to approve the measure, which would fix the split between federal law and 19 states where recreational marijuana is legal. Three Republicans joined all but two Democrats in approving the measure.
Matt Gaetz and Brian Mast of Florida and Tom McClintock of California were the Republicans who voted yes. Chris Pappas of New Hampshire and Henry Cuellar of Texas were the Democrats who opposed the bill.
U.S. Reps. Ted Budd, R-N.C., Mike Johnson, R-La., Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., Lee Zeldin, R-N.Y., and Cheri Bustos, D-Ill., did not vote.
The House bill would remove marijuana from the controlled substances list, expunge convictions for federal marijuana crimes and add a 5% federal sales tax that would fund programs meant to improve communities harmed by marijuana prohibition.
The Senate, where Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is a major supporter of legalization, did not take up a previous version of the bill that the House passed in 2020.
Schumer, along with Democrats Cory Booker of New Jersey and Ron Wyden of Oregon, sent a letter to the rest of the Senate in February asking for help writing a legalization bill in that chamber.
Democratic backers in the House emphasized its racial justice components. People of color are more likely to be arrested and convicted for marijuana crimes, even though they use the drug at similar rates as white people.
“Despite changes in state laws and social norms, as I have said, its use remains illegal under federal law, often resulting in devastating consequences … for Black, Latino and Native communities,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland said on the House floor Friday.
The bill would raise potentially hundreds of millions in new tax dollars annually and use them to fund local grant programs for job-training, literacy, youth recreation and more. It would also provide loans for small businesses for legitimate marijuana enterprises.
“We have a long journey ahead to achieve social justice and criminal justice reform,” U.S. Rep. Troy Carter, a Louisiana Democrat, said. “The war on marijuana is a costly relic of the past.”
Republicans raised a litany of objections to the bill. Congress should focus on inflation, illegal immigration, crime and the war in Ukraine, rather than legalizing marijuana, several GOP members said. Read more