The House Just Voted to Legalize Marijuana. What’s Next?

The landmark bill, if it passed the Senate, would address criminal justice reform and attempt to undo some of the harm the "war on drugs" had across the country.

marijuana law
Melina Mara/The Washington Post via Getty Images

The Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act (MORE Act, a bill that would legalize marijuana nationwide, just passed the House 220-204. Every Democrat but two voted for it and all but three Republicans voted against it.

If it passes the Senate — and then is signed by the president — would also remove marijuana from the controlled substance list. But despite the fact that it’s a broadly popular policy by the American public, it’s not likely to pass the Senate at all. Here’s what you need to know.

What does the MORE Act do?

Beyond legalizing the use of marijuana federally, the bill would also release people incarcerated on marijuana-related offenses where less than 30 grams was involved.

It would also expunge criminal penalties for anyone who has a charge related to manufacturing, distributing, and possessing cannabis and attempt to undo some of the harm the highly racially-biased “war on drugs” enforcement had. It would also put a 5 percent sales tax on marijuana and marijuana products —that tax would be used for programs to treat substance abuse and to help small businesses, particularly disadvantaged ones, get in on the marijuana industry.

According to data analyses by the ACLU, “marijuana arrests now account for over half of all drug arrests in the United States.” There were 8.2 million marijuana arrests between 2001 and 2010 — and 88 percent of those were just for having marijuana.

“This landmark legislation is one of the most important criminal justice reform bills in recent history: delivering justice for those harmed by the brutal, unfair consequences of criminalization; opening the doors of opportunity for all to participate in this rapidly growing industry, and decriminalizing cannabis at the federal level so we do not repeat the grave mistakes of our past,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said on the House floor on Thursday, according to The Hill.

Why won’t it pass the Senate?

Even with overwhelming support in the House of Representatives and how popular the policy is on a bipartisan level, the bill likely won’t pass the Senate. In order for the bill to move forward, every Democrat will need to be on board, plus 10 Republicans. The Hill reports that both Joe Manchin (D-W.VA.) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) are likely to vote no on the bill since both have “expressed skepticism about broadly legalizing marijuana.”

As far as the Republicans go, they’ve never really been supportive of passing a federal marijuana bill. And many have been vocally opposed to it, citing issues and concerns with the potential impact on the community. This means the bill will probably stall when it reaches the Senate.

However, Americans have made it very clear that they want to have federal-level legalization of cannabis. A 2019 poll shows that just two-thirds of Americans think marijuana should be legal and just 32 percent of Americans opposed legalization at the time. Around nine-in-10 Americans favor legalization for medical and or recreational use, the same poll of different respondents found.

And that’s beside the fact that, even if the federal government doesn’t act, states are doing their own work on legalizing marijuana. 18 states and two territories and the District of Columbia already allow for adult, nonmedical use and 37 states allow for medical use of cannabis.

Plus, legalizing marijuana is good for the economy. According to The Conversation, when looking at the four states to first to make recreational marijuana legal, banking activity grew significantly more than in other parts of the country.

“We found that bank deposits grew… an additional 4.3 percent in those four states after they legalized marijuana relative to states that had not yet done so. The volume of loans surged 6.5 percent more in states where marijuana was legal.”

What Parents Should Know About Federal Legalization

Some parents may be uneasy about the legalization of marijuana.

But federally legalizing and regulating marijuana through something like a Center for Cannabis Products within the FDA would be able to label and market cannabis products responsibly and could ensure that the labeling of stuff like edibles — that can look like candy — are not attractive to kids. Doctors could do way more research into marijuana as a medical tool, impaired driving rules could be enacted on a federal level, and families that have been separated through incarceration during the war on drugs could reunite and seek traditional work without records.

However this latest attempt to legalize marijuana across the country lands, it’s clear that Americans want this to pass.