Republican Bill Looks To Federally Decriminalize Cannabis In US

A survey in 2021 found that an overwhelming majority of Americans believe that marijuana should be legalized to some extent. Image credit: SKY Stock/Shutterstock.com

A Republican representative has introduced legislation aiming to federally decriminalize marijuana in the US, making it easier for states to make their own decision on cannabis.

Congresswoman Nancy Mace of South Carolina introduced the States Reform Act on Monday, November 15. The act proposes to remove marijuana from the list of Schedule I substances under the Controlled Substances Act. According to the bill, this would ultimately involve regulating and taxing the drug in a similar fashion to alcohol.

As it stands, decriminalizing marijuana is a tricky issue. As per the National Conference of State Legislatures, medical use of cannabis is legal with a doctor's recommendation in 36 states and four territories, while 18 states, two territories, and the District of Columbia allow recreational use. 

Simultaneously, however, cannabis remains a Schedule I drug under the federal Controlled Substances Act – so even if cannabis is legalized in a certain state, it’s technically still breaking federal law. This new bill hopes to iron out this contradiction by allowing states to pass their own laws and regulations on cannabis without fear of landing in hot water with the federal government. 

“Today, only 3 states lack some form of legal cannabis. My home state of South Carolina permits CBD, Florida allows medical marijuana, California and others have full recreational use, for example. Every state is different. Cannabis reform at the federal level must take all of this into account. And it’s past time federal law codifies this reality,” Rep. Mace said in a statement

“This is why I’m introducing the States Reform Act, a bill which seeks to remove cannabis from Schedule I in a manner consistent with the rights of states to determine what level of cannabis reform each state already has, or not,” she added. 

There have been a few attempts to reschedule cannabis under the Controlled Substances Act, but all have failed. One of the reasons is that federal government agencies typically rely on large-scale clinical trials to assess drugs, their uses, and their potential abuses. Ironically, it’s hard to carry out this kind of trial on marijuana since it’s strictly regulated by the federal government as a Schedule I drug.

The bill is also likely to face political resistance within the Republican party. Drew McKissick, elected State Chairman of the South Carolina Republican Party, reportedly released as a statement following the announcement of Mace’s bill saying the GOP opposed “any effort to legalize, decriminalize the use of controlled substances, and that includes this bill.”

Nevertheless, attitudes towards marijuana in the US have significantly loosened up in recent years, with increasing awareness of its therapeutic and medicinal value. Studies have demonstrated that it's also notably safer than many other recreational drugs – including alcohol and tobacco, which are legal. A survey carried out by the Pew Research Center this year found that 91 percent of Americans believe that marijuana should be legalized to some extent; 60 percent said marijuana should be legal for medical and recreational use and 31 percent say it should be legal for medical use only. Just 8 percent argue that marijuana should be totally illegal.

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