(Bloomberg) – The U.S. House of Representatives is set to vote this week on a bill to federally decriminalize marijuana, overturn convictions and impose a sales tax as Democrats of the Senate are developing their own version of a comprehensive measure.
The House is expected to pass the legislation, the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Clearing Act.
A version of the bill passed the House in 2020, but the Senate never took it up. This time, however, Democrats hold the narrowest of Senate majorities, and the leader of the party in that chamber, Chuck Schumer, plans to introduce his own legalization bill in April.
Schumer drafted the measure with fellow Democrats Finance Chairman Ron Wyden of Oregon and Cory Booker of New Jersey, but his prospects are uncertain in the chamber, where a 60-vote threshold is required to pass most laws . Opposition to marijuana legalization has come from both parties.
Steve Daines, a Republican from Montana, predicted that “legalization won’t go through the Senate”, and fellow Republican Dan Sullivan of Alaska called it “a bridge too far”. The two senators, who represent states where marijuana is legal, want the Senate to instead pass the bipartisan Secure and Fair Enforcement Banking Act, or SAFE, which would allow financial institutions to offer banking services to legal cannabis businesses without sanctions from federal regulators.
Several Democrats support the bill, including Wyden and Senator Jon Tester of Montana, a moderate. But Tester and another Democrat, Senator Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, do not support legalization.
Thirty-seven states have legalized marijuana for recreational or medicinal use.
The House MORE Act would remove marijuana from the list of scheduled substances under the Controlled Substances Act. It would also end the associated criminal penalties and establish a process for overturning convictions.
The bill aims to help communities hardest hit by drug convictions with a portion of proceeds from a tax on marijuana sales. And it prohibits the federal government from denying people, including immigrants, public benefits because of their cannabis use.
Booker said the goal of the Senate measure is also to establish what is called restorative justice.
“It’s been a war on people, because clearly we’ve had this dramatic difference in how some people are treated for using marijuana versus others,” he said.
Blacks are more than 3.6 times more likely than whites to be arrested for possession of marijuana, despite comparable rates of use, according to a 2020 report from the American Civil Liberties Union. Even in states where arrest rates have declined due to legalization or decriminalization, black people are still more likely to be arrested for possession than white people.
Marijuana arrests accounted for 43% of all drug arrests in 2018, according to the ACLU report. Most of those cases involved possession, the ACLU said.
According to the 2022 employment report from Leafly, a cannabis information and technology company, there were more than 425,000 full-time jobs in the legal cannabis industry in January. And industry sales totaled $25 billion last year.
“It is unconscionable that you can have such a large industry, employing so many people, spread across so many states, and not enjoying the privileges and benefits that most other industries in the United States take for granted every day,” said Steven Hawkins, CEO of the US Cannabis Council.
Opponents of marijuana legalization argue that the drug can be harmful and addictive. Smart Approaches to Marijuana, a non-profit organization, supports the decriminalization of marijuana but opposes commercial legalization.
“We would like to see these reforms also coupled with educational intervention and treatment where needed, because many people believe that marijuana addiction is not real and it is,” said Kevin Sabet, president of the organization.
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