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House votes to decriminalize marijuana, but Senate fate dim – Press Herald

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Democratic Reps. Chellie Pingree and Jared Golden of Maine voted for the bill.
WASHINGTON — Marijuana would be decriminalized at the federal level under legislation the House approved Friday as Democrats made the case for allowing states to set their own policies on pot.
The bill is unlikely to become law since it is expected to die in the Senate. That would mirror what happened when a similar House-passed measure removing marijuana from the list of federally controlled substances went nowhere in the Senate two years ago.
Still, Friday’s vote gave lawmakers the chance to state their view on a decriminalization push that appears to have broad support with voters across the country.
Both members of the U.S. House from Maine voted for the bill.
Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-1st District, said in a written statement that decriminalizing marijuana at the federal level would remove legal hurdles hindering Maine’s recreational cannabis industry and correct racial injustices rooted in the War on Drugs.
“In the first year of sales, Maine’s legal recreational cannabis industry brought in $60 million, offering the state much-needed tax revenues during a critical time of economic recovery from the pandemic. … With marijuana decriminalized on the federal level, burdensome legal hurdles that hinder the industry’s growth will be removed and these entrepreneurs won’t be treated as if they are operating outside of the law,” Pingree said. “The criminalization of marijuana has predominantly affected Black Americans – creating sometimes-lifelong barriers to jobs, education, and housing. The MORE Act takes vital steps to correct many of the injustices in America’s racially motivated drug policies”
Rep. Jared Golden, D-2nd District, voted yes but had no statement about his decision, his office said.
When he voted for a similar bill in 2020, Golden told the Associated Press the legislation would help protect Maine decisions from federal actions.
“The people of Maine have already chosen to legalize cannabis,” Golden said. “Unfortunately, federal policy has led to difficulties for many Mainers, including veterans unable to access medical marijuana treatment at the VA, and licensed small businesses unable to access lending and banking services.”
The 2020 election showed how broadly accepted marijuana has become, with measures to legalize recreational pot breezing to victory in progressive New Jersey, moderate Arizona and conservative Montana and South Dakota.
The House approved the bill Friday with a mostly party-line vote of 220-204. All but two voting Democrats backed the measure, while only three Republicans did.
The measure would require federal courts to expunge prior marijuana convictions and conduct resentencing hearings for those completing their sentences. It also authorizes a 5 percent sales tax on marijuana and marijuana products that would be used for grant programs focused on job training, substance abuse treatment and loans to help disadvantaged small businesses get into the marijuana industry.
Democrats said the nation’s federal prohibition on marijuana has had particularly devastating consequences for minority communities. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., cited statistics that showed Black Americans were four times more likely than white Americans to be arrested for marijuana possession, even though they use it at similar rates.
“Those criminal records can haunt people of color and impact the trajectory of their lives indefinitely,” Hoyer said. “I regret that there are some members of our Congress who apparently think that’s not worthy of attention.”
“Make no mistake, yes, it is a racial justice bill,” said Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif.
Republicans who opposed the measure said marijuana is a gateway drug that would lead to greater use of opioids and other dangerous substances. They also said the pot sold today is far more potent than what was sold decades ago, leading to greater impairment for those who use it. They said decriminalization is not the priority that lawmakers should be focused on now, with the war in Ukraine and inflation driving up the cost of gas, food and other essential items.
“Yet the priority of this Congress now turns to expanding access to addictive, behavior-altering recreational drugs at a time when our country is also experiencing increased addiction, depression and suicide,” said Rep. Bob Good, R-Va.
Thirty-seven states and District of Columbia allow the medical use of cannabis products while 18 states and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational marijuana, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
“If states are the laboratories of democracy, it is long past time for the federal government to recognize that legalization has been a resounding success and that the conflict with federal law has become untenable,” said the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.
In the Senate, Democrats including Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York asked colleagues in early February for their input on a marijuana decriminalization bill that they would be introducing later this year.
“This is an issue of individual freedom and basic fairness that clearly transcends party lines,” the Democrats said in their letter to colleagues.
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