The House of Representatives has voted to decriminalize marijuana at the federal level. According to USA Today, the Democrat-controlled House passed the measure in a 228-164 vote that mostly went right down party-lines. The outlet noted this is the first time that either Congressional chamber has held a vote on marijuana legalization.
The decriminalization measure was sponsored by Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., and would take marijuana off of the federal list of controlled substances. It would also expunge some marijuana-related criminal records. Notably, the measure would not legalize the sale of marijuana on a national level, as states would still be in charge of passing their own regulations for this. In a statement, Nadler said that this legislation would help address the "mistake" of marijuana's criminalization and its "racially disparate enforcement."
"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," Nadler said. Interestingly, Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz, who is a staunch conservative Republican, was one of a handful of GOP members to agree with Nadler and vote in favor of the legislation. He was also the only Republican to co-sponsor the legislation.
While speaking on the House floor, Gaetz said that the bill is necessary because of the current federal prohibitions on marijuana causing constraints on the states. "If we were measuring the success in the 'war on drugs,' it would be hard to conclude anything other than the fact that drugs have won," Gaetz said. He added that he believes this is evident in American citizens no longer supporting strict laws on drugs.
Decriminalization advocates are very pleased with this vote, and tend to see it as a way of moving toward "justice." Maritza Perez, director of the office of national affairs at the Drug Policy Alliance, which is a group that actively advocates for drug decriminalization issued a statement on the legislation passing. "With this vote, Congress is recognizing the disproportionate impact enforcement has had on our communities and calling for the unjust status quo to be disrupted," she said.
The legislation will next go on to the GOP-controlled Senate, where it is not likely to pass. President-elect Joe Biden has expressed support for marijuana decriminalization, as well as for its medical use. However, he believes that the legalization of marijuana for recreational use should be left up to the individual states.