The House is voting to decriminalize marijuana at the federal level

WASHINGTON (AP) – Democrat-controlled House on Friday approved a federal-level bill on decriminalizing and taxing marijuana, reversing supporters’ policies to criminalize pottery use, and taking steps to address federal drug laws.

Opponents, mostly Republicans, called the bill an excuse for a political gesture and mocked Democrats for bringing it up at a time when thousands of Americans are dying of the coronavirus epidemic.

“Despite American challenges (Republicans) believe that COVID relief should be on the floor, instead Democrats put cats and cannabis on the house floor,” said Kevin McCarthy, the house’s minority leader in California. – They pick weeds on the workers. They are taking (providing) marijuana for the much-needed money we need to go ahead to ”to deal with the pandemic.

McCarthy’s comment on cats referred to a separate bill approved by the House that banned private ownership of big cats such as lions and tigers. This measure was prompted by Netflix’s “Tiger King” series. This bill, approved by the House on Thursday, would allow most private zoos to keep their tigers and other species, but would ban most public contact with the animals.

Democrats said they could work on the exemption of COVID-19 and marijuana reform at the same time, noting that the House passed a pandemic mitigation bill in May that ran in the Senate.

Proponents say the banking bill would help end the decades-long “war on drugs” by removing marijuana or cannabis from the list of federally controlled substances, while allowing states to set their own rules for the pot. The bill would also use the money from the new excise tax on marijuana to meet the needs of groups and communities affected by the so-called drug war and to ensure the abolition of federal marijuana convictions and arrests.

“For too long, we are treating marijuana as a criminal justice problem, not because of personal choice and public health,” said MP Jerry Nadler, DN.Y., chairman of the House Judiciary Committee and the bill. “Whatever your views on the use of marijuana for recreational or medical purposes, the policy of arrests, prosecutions, and detention at the federal level is unreasonable and unfair.”

Proponents of the drug reform called the referendum a historic name, noting that it was the first time comprehensive legislation to decriminalize marijuana had passed the entire House or Senate.

“Making marijuana a crime is a cornerstone of the racist war on drugs. Even after a decade of reform victories, one person was arrested almost every minute last year for simply possessing marijuana, ”said Maritza Perez, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. “Today, the House has taken the most effective step forward to address this shameful legacy.”

The vote comes when the majority of Americans live in states where marijuana is in some form legal, and lawmakers on both sides have agreed that national cannabis policies have woefully lagged behind state-level changes. This division has raised a number of problems – for example, loans and other banking services are difficult for many marijuana companies to obtain as the pot remains illegal at the federal level.

Four states, including New Jersey and Arizona, allowed a referendum on recreational cannabis this year. Voters made Oregon the first state in the nation to decriminalize possession of small amounts of cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine.

Representative Barbara Lee of the state of California called the house bill an important racial justice measure. The bill is “an important step, remember, it’s a big step toward ending an unjust war on drugs and racial inequalities, which are central to these laws,” said Lee, who is African-American.

The bill passed in 228-164 now goes to a Republican-controlled senate, where it is unlikely to get any further. A related bill that would give banking businesses access to traditional banking services sank in the Senate after it was approved by the House last year.

Five Republicans supported the bill: Matt Gaetz and Brian Mast, Florida MPs; Tom McClintock, California, Denver Riggleman of Virginia and Don Young of Alaska.

Six Democrats opposed: Cheri Bustos and Daniel Lipinski, Illinois MPs; Collin Peterson, Minnesota; Chris Pappas, New Hampshire; Conor Lamb Pennsylvania; and Henry Cuellar of Texas.

Louisiana State Representative Steve Scalise, the number two Republican House, said the GOP legislators have been pushing for weeks to pass a bill that will allow small businesses to get another round of Paycheck Protection Program loans. Many small businesses are struggling or closed due to the epidemic.

Instead of allowing a vote on the GOP bill, California House Speaker Nancy Pelosi “actually focuses more on legalizing the bank,” Scalise said. “It’s unbelievable how deaf (Democrats) they are to these small businesses and the jobs and families that are connected to them.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell also mocked the bill, saying in his upstairs speech that “the House of Representatives is spending the week on such pressing issues as marijuana. You know, serious and important legislation that meets this national crisis. “

The Big Cat Public Safety Act is also unlikely to move forward in the Senate. Senator Ted Cruz of North Texas said in a tweet that Democrats were more in favor of “Persecuting the Tiger King” rather than addressing issues related to the COVID-19 epidemic.

But Carole Baskin, whose animal rescue organization is on the Netflix series, said the legislation would make decades of efforts to end the abuse of tiger cubs and other big cats and protect the public and first responders from injury and death.

“None of these important goals can be backed up in any way, and we hope the Senate will quickly follow suit to legitimize it,” said Baskin, CEO and founder of Florida-based Big Cat Rescue.

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.