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Marijuana legalization is in a sticky spot: while most states have legalized it for recreational or medical use, it is still federally illegal. But that could soon change.
This week, the House of Representatives is expected to pass a bill that would decriminalize marijuana use at the federal level. This is an extremely popular decision among Americans: An April 2021 poll from Pew Research found that 91% of American adults believe that marijuana should be legal, whether for medical, recreational or both at the federal level.
And while the vote would open the door to a sweeping change in the way weed is used in the United States, analysts expect it will face hurdles in the Senate.
Here’s what you need to know.
The MORE Act: Can Marijuana Become Federally Legal?
Currently, 37 states have legalized cannabis for medical purposes and 18 have legalized it for medical and recreational use. But since it’s still illegal under federal law, it poses significant challenges for marijuana businesses, including being barred from accessing financial services and being unable to obtain loans or bank accounts.
A legislative vote this week could open the door to legalizing marijuana across the country. The House should vote on the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Clearance Act (MORE) by Friday. The bill would remove marijuana from the list of scheduled substances and remove any criminal penalties for those who manufacture, distribute or possess marijuana.
The proposal, if passed, would also give a fresh start to those who have already been convicted of cannabis offences. The MORE Act would require courts to expunge prior marijuana-related convictions from criminal records and dismiss those currently serving time for such convictions. It would also allow people who have been convicted of cannabis-related offenses to receive public benefits.
The proposed law would not stop there – it would also generate funds to help support communities in need. The MORE Act would impose a federal tax on marijuana sales, the proceeds of which would fund drug treatment programs and legal counseling to help communities negatively impacted by the War on Drugs, which are overwhelmingly communities of color.
The federal government could make a lot of money if the MORE Act becomes law. California, one of the first states to legalize recreational marijuana use, generated more than $1 billion in marijuana tax revenue just two years after statewide legalization. Legal cannabis sales are expected to reach $40.5 billion by 2025.
Proponents of marijuana legalization argue that its criminalization is racist, costly for justice and goes against public opinion. According to the ACLUblack Americans are more likely to be arrested than white Americans for possession of marijuana, despite similar rates of use.
Will the Senate vote to legalize marijuana?
If the House passes the MORE Act, it will face challenges in the Senate. Even if all Senate Democrats voted in favor of the bill, it would still take 10 GOP votes for it to pass and become law. Analysts predict it won’t happenin part because Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) wanted pass its own marijuana legalization solution.
Even if the MORE Act fails, it opens the door to a more open view of marijuana at the federal level. Cannabis has been a scapegoat for racism since the 20th century when Mexican immigrants brought the tradition of smoking marijuana to the United States. It was banned federally in 1937.
Federal decriminalization of marijuana may still be a long way off, but other proposals show how the tone toward marijuana is changing.
Another law related to marijuana, the SAFE banking law, would allow cannabis-related businesses to obtain bank accounts, which they currently cannot do under federal law. This ban leaves cannabis businesses vulnerable to theft. The bill was passed in the House six times but arblocked several times in the Senate.