Nov. 20 (UPI) -- The House Judiciary Committee passed a landmark bill Wednesday to federally decriminalize marijuana by removing it as a Schedule 1 drug of the Controlled Substances Act and to pave the way for the expungement of marijuana convictions from criminal records.
Committee chairman and the bill's sponsor Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., told the House Wednesday before the vote that it was a mistake to have criminalized marijuana and that mistake was further compounded by racial disparity enforcement laws.
"These steps are long overdue," he said. "For far too long, we have treated marijuana as a criminal justice problem instead of a matter of personal choice and public health. Whatever one's views on the use of marijuana for recreational or medicinal purposes, arresting, prosecuting and incarcerating users at the federal level is unwise and unjust."
The bill, if enacted, will give the Attorney General 180 days to remove marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug and federal districts a year to expunge prior federal cannabis offenses.
It also includes a 5 percent tax on the sale of marijuana products for the creation of the Opportunity Trust Fund to aid communities and individuals most adversely affected by the War on Drugs.
Marijuana arrests account for more than half of all drug arrests in the county with 88 percent of the 8.2 million pot arrests only for possession, the American Civil Liberties Union said, adding that black people were 3.73 times more likely than white people to be arrested for the drug despite equal usage rates.
The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws called Wednesday's vote a "truly historic moment in our nation's political history."
"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, notably on communities of color and other already marginalized groups," NORML Executive Director Erik Altieri said in a statement. "Opposition to our failed war on marijuana has reached a boiling point with over two-thirds of all Americans, including majorities of all political persuasions, now supporting legalization."