US House votes to decriminalize marijuana; Alabama legislature to debate medical marijuana in 2021
On Friday, US House of Representatives voted 228-164 to legalize marijuana at the federal level. It is the first time in history that a chamber of Congress has voted to do so.
The Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, which would remove marijuana from the federal list of controlled substances and expunge some marijuana-related criminal records, was passed primarily on a party line vote with most Democrats supporting and most Republicans opposing. The bill would impose a five percent tax on the sale of marijuana and deposit the revenues into a trust fund for use of workforce development and training initiatives in communities most affected by the “War on Drugs.”
Many of the bill’s sponsors spoke to the issue as one of fairness, and justice, as debates have spawned surrounding police arrests and criminal justice reform following the killing of George Floyd earlier this summer. An ACLU report found that between 2010 to 2018, Black people were more then three times more likely than white people to be arrested for marijuana possession. Rep. Jerry Nadley sponsored the MORE Act and said that “this long-overdue legislation would reverse the failed policy of criminalizing marijuana on the federal level and would take steps to address the heavy toll this policy has taken across the country, particularly on communities of color.” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy told reporters that Democrats were “focused on cats and cannabis instead of COVID.”
The bill is unlikely to be taken up by the Republican controlled Senate as the current Congress ends in just a few weeks. Medical marijuana is legal in 36 states and recreational use allowed in states comprising of nearly one-third of all Americans, supporters of the MORE Act contend it is simply just a matter of time before some version of a federal decriminalization bill passes.
Alabama could join those ranks with medical marijuana having passed the Alabama State Senate in both 2019 and 2020.
In 2019, the Alabama House of Representatives voted to create a medical marijuana commission to explore and research the issue, while in 2020 the legislative session was stalled due to the coronavirus pandemic after passing the senate by a vote of 22-11. Republican Senator Tim Melson has said he plans to bring the bill back once again in 2021.