On Friday, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill that would legalize marijuana nationwide, abolishing penalties for those who manufacture, distribute or possess the drug. The bill will need to pass the Senate before heading to President Joe Biden for signature.
The legislation, dubbed the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act, passed the House in a 220-204 vote almost entirely along party lines.
Just three members of the GOP, Matt Gaetz of Florida, Tom McClintock of California and Brian Mast of Florida, voted yes, whereas just two Democrats voted no: Chris Pappas of New Hampshire and Henry Cuellar of Texas.
The bill also creates methods to expunge the records of those previously convicted of marijuana-related offenses and imposes a sales tax on cannabis products.
“This landmark legislation is one of the most important criminal justice reform bills in recent history,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said on Thursday, according to CNBC.
The sales tax would start at 5 percent and increase to 8 percent over time, and would fund job training, mentoring, substance-use treatment, legal aid, re-entry services and youth recreation programs. The tax would also fund a loan program to assist cannabis industry small businesses that are “owned and controlled by socially and economically disadvantaged individuals.”
The Senate has been working on its own version of marijuana legalization spearheaded by Sen. Chuck Schumer. To pass the bill in the Senate would require the vote of all Senate Democrats and 10 Senate Republicans.
Pelosi argued the bill would bring about “justice for those harmed by the brutal, unfair consequences of criminalization” and would open doors to participate in the industry which would be decriminalized federally “so we do not repeat the grave mistakes of our past.”
Rep. Cliff Bentz (R-OR) warned that legalizing marijuana nationwide could lead to spikes in impaired driving incidents, and suggested the bill should not pass until the consequences of decriminalization is thoroughly studied, Fox News reported.
“It’s been obvious for years that at some point marijuana was going to be formally legalized,” Bentz said. “What’s deeply and truly disturbing, however, about this bill is its failure to address the clear consequences of legalization, such as what this drug does to children, to drivers on our highways, to the mental health of up to 30 percent of those adults who choose to use marijuana to communities inundated with hundreds, if not thousands of foreign cartel operated, unlicensed out of control marijuana grows.”
Rep. Jim Jordan expressed frustration with the timing of the legislation, arguing that other matters like crime, inflation and illegal immigration should be priorities.
“Record crime, record inflation, record gas prices, record number of illegal immigrants crossing our southern border. And what are Democrats doing today?” Jordan asked. “Legalizing drugs, legalizing drugs and using American tax dollars to kick-start and prop up the marijuana industry. Wow. Such a deal for the American people.”
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said after the bill’s passage on Friday that President Joe Biden believes “our current marijuana laws are not working.”