US House backs decriminalising marijuana in historic vote

US House backs decriminalising marijuana in historic vote

Friday, December 04, 2020

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WASHINGTON, United States (AFP) — US House legislators voted for the first time Friday to decriminalise cannabis, a major 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 legalised 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 recognise 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 offences.

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.

"This is a historic moment," said Democratic Representative Tulsi Gabbard, who has pushed the legislation.

Democrats argued that Black Americans have suffered legally much more than whites for arrests and convictions; that federal decriminalisation would allow injured veterans better access to medical marijuana; and that longstanding federal blocks on marijuana research would end.

Increasingly the US federal approach is out of line with international trends.

Northern neighbour Canada fully legalised marijuana in 2018, and has a number of large companies growing it commercially.

And Mexico also took a step closer to legalising marijuana for recreational and medicinal use last month as the Senate approved a bill aimed at reducing violence linked to drug trafficking.

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