The House passed a landmark bill decriminalizing cannabis. But will the Senate follow suit?

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Today, the US House of Representatives passed historic legislation decriminalizing cannabis. The MORE Act, “A Bill To decriminalize and deschedule cannabis, to provide for reinvestment in certain persons adversely impacted by the War on Drugs, to provide for expungement of certain cannabis offenses, and for other purposes,” passed by a vote of 228-164, with five Republicans supporting the reform and six Democrats opposing it.

This is the first time either chamber of Congress has endorsed removing cannabis from the 1970 Controlled Substances Act, which places all prohibited drugs in one of 5 Schedules. Schedule 1 is reserved for the most dangerous drugs, those with a high potential for abuse and that have no medical use, such as heroin and cocaine – and, incredibly, “marijuana and its cannabinoids.”  

However, as the prestigious Shafer Commission told us in 1972, cannabis shouldn’t have been listed in any of the Schedules let alone the most severe one, hence the question: Did the Nixon administration just get the science wrong or was there something more nefarious going on? John Ehrlichman, who was the Assistant to the President for Domestic Affairs at the time, made this stunning admission in a 1994 interview with a reporter from Harper’s Magazine:

You want to know what this was really all about? The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black. But by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.

Okay, so Nixon’s War on Drugs was based on a lie: in truth it was designed to outlaw Black life. So will the Senate now do its part to “provide for reinvestment in certain persons adversely impacted by the War on Drugs” and also pass the bill?

Here’s Paul Krugman in his NYT column this week titled How Will Biden Deal With Republican Sabotage? saying it will come down to who controls the Senate, meaning it’ll depend on what happens in the Jan. 5 Georgia Senate runoffs:

If Democrats win both seats, they’ll have effective though narrow control of both houses of Congress. If they don’t, Mitch McConnell will have enormous powers of obstruction — and anyone who doubts that he’ll use those powers to undermine Biden at every turn is living in a fantasy world.

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