In a development activists are calling some of the biggest marijuana news this year, a congressional committee approved a bill that would end federal prohibition of the drug for the first time ever on Wednesday.
In addition to federally decriminalizing marijuana by removing it from the list of drugs under the Controlled Substances Act, the bill would establish a 5% sales tax on the cannabis industry to fund the process of expunging the records of people with marijuana convictions.
Leaders with the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws hailed the vote as a groundbreaking moment.
“This is a truly historic moment in our nation’s political history,” NORML Executive Director Erik Altieri said in a statement. “For the first time, a Congressional committee has approved far-reaching legislation to not just put an end to federal marijuana prohibition, but to address the countless harms our prohibitionist policies have wrought, notable on communities of color and other marginalized groups.”
If the bill becomes law, the country could follow in the footsteps of several California counties that have expunged people’s records of marijuana crimes and pave the way for them to be resentenced or seek citizenship and federal public benefits, such as housing.
The bill was introduced by Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) and widely supported by other Democrats on the committee and a few Republicans, including Florida’s Rep. Matt Gaetz and California’s Rep. Tom McClintock ― something marijuana activist groups emphasized as key to the bill’s success.
“These votes demonstrate the broad bipartisan support that exists in Congress for allowing states to determine their own cannabis policies,” Neal Levine, the CEO of the Cannabis Trade Federation, said in a statement. “There appears to be a consensus among both parties that the conflict between state and federal cannabis laws is untenable and needs to be resolved.”
However, the bill is expected to be a hard sell in the Republican-controlled Senate, where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) stands firmly opposed to any marijuana legalization.
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