For the first time in American history, the House of Representatives has voted to decriminalize marijuana
The measure, which was backed by Democrats and Republicans, passed 228-164.
The bill, known as The MORE Act, would eliminate the penalties that exist at the federal level for possession and use of marijuana.
It also would create a pathway for Americans convicted of federal marijuana charges to have those charges expunged.
Want to know if your Member of Congress voted for or against decriminalizing marijuana today? Here is a link https://t.co/0vc89DlHHn
— Joe St. George (@JoeStGeorge) December 4, 2020
WHY IT MATTERS
Currently, marijuana is classified as a Schedule 1 drug, the same ranking as heroin.
While federal laws haven't prevented 15 states from legalizing recreational marijuana, it does impact businesses. For instance, businesses can't use banks like other companies. Businesses also remain at risk for federal prosecution.
Additionally, the classification of cannabis as a Schedule 1 drug prevents taxes from being collected and research from taking place.
Federal employees can still be fired for using marijuana if they fail various drug tests.
WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?
While supporters have called Friday's vote "historic," for the moment, it is only symbolic.
That's because Republicans control the United States Senate and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has repeatedly blocked any repeal or decriminalization legislation from taking place.
The MORE Act will likely not even get a vote under McConnell's leadership, although anything is possible in Washington.
WHAT COULD CHANGE?
It is possible Democrats could take control of the Senate after the January 5 runoff elections in Georgia.
That would give the MORE Act a chance at a vote on the Senate floor, but even then, current rules require 60 votes for passage. The odds of that remain slim.
President-elect Joe Biden could, however, take action once he assumes office in January.
The president-elect could provide more flexibility to federal employees to use marijuana.
Biden could appoint an attorney general who has a hands-off approach. Biden also could pardon Americans with convictions while also attempting to reclassify the drug as a Schedule 3 or Schedule 4 drug with lesser penalties for use.