The House of Representatives took a historic vote Friday to pass a bill for the first time that would federally decriminalize marijuana.
What does that mean and what happens next? Here is a breakdown:
What is the MORE Act?The MORE Act stands for Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment, and Expungement Act. The bill would federally decriminalize marijuana and also mandate a reassessment of prior marijuana convictions, invest in services for people caught up in the war on drugs and open Small Business Administration funding for legitimate cannabis-related businesses, according to the text of the bill.
What does decriminalization mean?Since the passage of the Controlled Substances Act in 1970, Congress has largely prohibited the cultivation, distribution and possession of marijuana. Legalization means all legal prohibitions would be removed against marijuana. That's not what the MORE Act proposes.
Decriminalization is the removal of preexisting criminal sanctions against an action, article or behavior. Marijuana would remain illegal, but the federal criminal justice system would not prosecute anyone for possession under a specified amount.
For example, some states have passed laws to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana intended to turn a blind eye against users while maintaining strict limits that maintain enforcement against wholesale dealers. Even with decriminalization, criminal justice authorities could still determine whether to impose civil fines, such as for consumption in a public setting or driving while under the influence, as well as mandate drug education or rehabilitation.
Why aren't people getting in trouble for recreational or medical use now if it's still federally illegal?In 2013, President Obama's Department of Justice recognized a wave of state ballot initiatives that legalized, under state law, the possession of small amounts of marijuana and provided for the regulation of marijuana production, processing and sale while directing prosecutors to prioritize other enforcement areas.
Five years later, President Trump's Department of Justice issued a memo "announcing a return to the rule of law and the rescission of previous guidance documents," but the missive has had little impact on reversing the Obama administration's lax policy.
What happens next?Since the Senate is highly unlikely to consider the MORE Act passed by the House today, the legislation will inevitably expire at the end of the 116th session of Congress. Lawmakers will then have to start over in the 117th Congress and take the legislation through the whole legislative process to become law. The House and Senate must pass identical text of the same bill, and the president must sign that measure into law. If the president vetoes the bill, Congress could override that veto with a two-thirds majority in order to enact the bill.