U.S. House Panel Approves Bill to Decriminalize Pot

The House Judiciary Committee approved legislation on Wednesday that would decriminalize marijuana at the federal level and reassess pot convictions.

The Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act, H.R. 3884, would expunge convictions and authorize a five per cent sales tax on marijuana to help minority communities enter the cannabis business. The legislation was approved by the committee 24-10 Wednesday, clearing the way for a vote in the full House.

“These steps are long overdue,” Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler, a New York Democrat, said in his opening statement. “For far too long, we have treated marijuana as a criminal justice problem instead of a matter of personal choice and public health.”

The bill has little chance of becoming law with the Republican-controlled Senate, and it appears to be geared toward building momentum for the Secure and Fair Enforcement Banking Act, which would allow banks to do business with legal cannabis companies. That legislation passed a House vote in September.

The timing of the vote, amid the ongoing impeachment drama and just prior to the Thanksgiving holiday, is a “source of concern,” Cowen analyst Jaret Seiberg wrote in a note published Monday.

“Committee passage is about creating momentum for the SAFE Act on cannabis banking, medical research legislation and expanded access for military veterans,” Seiberg said. “Voting just before Congress leaves for the Thanksgiving recess with the Christmas recess just a few weeks away does not help.”

While 33 states and the District of Columbia have legalized at least some uses of marijuana, the issue remains highly contentious at the federal level.

Republican committee members argued that it could be a mistake to advance the bill without holding more thorough hearings.

“This should not be rushed into,” Representative Louie Gohmert, a Texas Republican, said.

The bill has 54 Democratic co-sponsors, and one Republican co-sponsor: Florida Representative Matt Gaetz.

Democratic Senator Kamala Harris, 2020 presidential candidate, introduced a companion bill in the Senate.

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