US House legislators voted for the first time to decriminalize cannabis, a key step towards bringing federal laws in line with states and other countries that have freed up use of the drug.
The House of Representatives, controlled by Democrats, easily passed the bill by 228 votes to 164. It stands little chance however in the Senate, which is controlled by Republicans.
The bill would remove marijuana from the federal Controlled Substances Act, which listed it beside heroin and cocaine as a dangerous narcotic and mandated tough penalties.
The drug’s inclusion on the list has left the US federal government out of line with the many states which have legalized marijuana for medical use and some, like Colorado, which have completely freed and regulated it for recreational use.
The bill was the culmination of five decades of supporters lobbying to have the federal government recognize the relatively low harm inflicted by cannabis usage compared to other drugs, as well as the failure to stifle the trade while jailing hundreds of thousands of people for minor offenses.
It would see the records of many people arrested for marijuana use expunged, and calls for the review of the sentences of those currently jailed on federal cannabis charges.
And it would let states set their own laws but also launch federal regulation and taxation of the industry, as it does for alcohol.
“For far too long, we have treated marijuana as a criminal justice problem instead of as a matter of personal choice and public health,” said senior House Democrat Jerry Nadler, who sponsored the legislation.
“Growing recognition in the states show that the status quo on this issue is unacceptable.”
– Out of step –
Democrats argued that Black Americans have suffered legally much more than whites for arrests and convictions; that