The Democratically Controlled House passed a federal decriminalization and taxation bill on Friday that reverses what supporters have called a failed policy of criminalizing pot use and eliminating racial differences in enforcement federal drug laws.
Opponents, mostly Republicans, called the bill a hollow political gesture and mocked the Democrats for bringing it forward at a time when thousands of Americans were dying from the coronavirus pandemic.
« With all the challenges America is facing right now, (Republicans) think COVID aid should be on the floor, but instead the Democrats are putting cats and cannabis on the floor of the house, » said Kevin McCarthy, chairman the minority of the house, R-Calif. « They are picking weeds over the workers. They are picking marijuana to provide the much-needed money we need to fight the pandemic.
McCarthy’s comment on cats referred to a separate bill that was approved by the House to ban private ownership of big cats like lions and tigers. This measure was supported by the Netflix series « Tiger King. This bill, approved by the House on Thursday, would allow most private zoos to keep their tigers and other species, but would prohibit most public contact with the animals.
Democrats said they could work on COVID-19 aid and marijuana reform at the same time, noting that the House passed a pandemic relief bill in May that failed in the Senate.
Proponents say the pot bill would help reverse the adverse effects of the decades-long « war on drugs » by removing marijuana or cannabis from the list of state-controlled substances while allowing states to set their own rules on the pot. The bill would also use money from an excise tax on marijuana to meet the needs of groups and communities harmed by the drug war and to provide for federal eradication of marijuana convictions and arrests.
« For too long, we’ve treated marijuana as a criminal justice issue rather than a matter of personal choice and public health, » said Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-N. Y. . , Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee and main sponsor of the bill. « Whatever one makes of the use of marijuana for recreational or medicinal purposes, federal arrest, prosecution and incarceration policies have proven unwise and unjust. «
The vote comes at a time when most Americans live in states where marijuana is legal in any form, and lawmakers from both parties agreed that national cannabis policy has lagged far behind changes at the state level is. This divide has caused a number of problems – for example, loans and other banking services are hard to come by for many marijuana companies as the pot remains illegal at the federal level.
Four states, including New Jersey and Arizona, have passed referendums approving cannabis for recreational use. Voters made Oregon the first state in the nation to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine.
Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif. called the house bill an important measure of racial justice. Lee, who is Black, said the bill was the result of years of work by a number of proponents, and long overdue.
The bill « is an important step, mind you, an important step towards ending the unjust war on drugs and racial inequalities that are central to these laws, » Lee said.
The bill would also open up more opportunities for marijuana companies, including access to Small Business Administration loans to ensure minorities can participate in an industry dominated by white farmers and farmers. « This is a job creation industry and (the bill) also provides economic opportunities for minority entrepreneurs, » Lee said.
The bill, which was passed between 228 and 164, now goes to the Republican-controlled Senate where it is unlikely to move forward. A corresponding bill to give pot companies access to traditional banking services has failed in the Senate after it was approved by the House of Representatives last year.
Louisiana Rep. Steve Scalise, the No.. 2 House Republican says GOP lawmakers have been pushing for weeks to propose a bill that will allow small businesses to get another round of Paycheck Protection Program loans. Many small businesses are struggling or have closed due to the pandemic.
If House Speaker Nancy Pelosi got the GOP bill on the floor of the House, « it would get over 400 votes, » Scalise told Fox News. « Yet this week she’s been more focused on legalizing pot than helping those small businesses with PPP loans. It’s just amazing how numb (Democrats) are to these small businesses and the jobs, the families that go with them. ”
One of its provisions is that the law provides a 5% sales tax on marijuana products to fund programs to help people and communities harmed in the so-called war on drugs, such as professional training and legal aid. In addition, federal courts would need to overturn previous marijuana convictions.
Sen. . Ted Cruz, R-Texas, criticized the Democrats, saying in a tweet that they are switching to « Prosecute Tiger King » instead of addressing issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
But Carole Baskin, whose animal rescue organization featured on the Netflix franchise, said the legislation would culminate a decade-long effort to end abuse of baby tigers and other big cats and to protect the public and first responders from injury and death.
« None of these important goals are biased in any way and we hope the Senate will quickly follow suit to get them into law, » said Baskin, CEO and founder of Big Cat Rescue in Florida.
Cannabis, United States Congress
World News – US – Congressional Votes to Decriminalize Marijuana Federal
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