By Emily Ledger
The USA’s House of Representatives last week passed a bill supporting the decriminalisation of cannabis at the federal level. The Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (More) Act was passed in the lower chamber by 228 votes to 164.
Voters in four US states supported the legalisation of recreational cannabis on last month’s election day, bring the total of cannabis legal states to 15, in addition to the District of Columbia. Such votes demonstrate an appetite among citizens for meaningful change to US drug policy.
The More Act
For the first time, the House of Representatives have passed a bill that would remove cannabis from the list of federally controlled substances. Cannabis is currently placed in Schedule 1 of the list, defining it as having no medical potential and a high risk of abuse.
In addition to decriminalising cannabis, the More Act also calls for the expungement of some cannabis convictions – such as possession – and re-investment in communities most affected by the ‘war on drugs’.
Many sponsors and supporters of the bill argue that the More Act is less about cannabis legalisation than about the need to support the communities that had been damaged by cannabis prohibition and prosecution – namely, communities of colour.
It is estimated that black Americans are more than three times likely to be arrested for cannabis-related offenses than white Americans, despite similar rates of use.
A total of 228 House Representatives voted in favour of the More Act, including five Republicans and one independent. However, to become law, the bill must be passed by the Republican-controlled Senate – a victory that remains unlikely.
Cannabis in the USA
Around one in three Americans now live in a state where recreational cannabis is legal. This means that adults aged 21 and over, can purchase, possess, and use cannabis products without fearing the involvement of state prosecutors.
While recreational cannabis is now legal in 15 states plus D.C., a total of 38 states have now introduced some degree of medical cannabis framework. The latest states to pass medical cannabis legalisation were Mississippi and South Dakota – where voters simultaneously supported recreational legalisation.
Cannabis laws – at least at state level – are changing faster than ever in the USA and support for federal legalisation has never been higher. A Gallup poll last month demonstrated that over two-thirds of citizens now support legalisation.
While the More Act may struggle in the Republican-majority Senate this time, it could be only a matter of time before the federal decriminalisation of cannabis is enacted.