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John Della Rocca Nov. 26, 2019

November 2019 brought big news for hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people across the country. A key congressional committee voted to end the long-standing federal prohibitions on cannabis. The House Judiciary Committee, by a vote of 24-10, agreed to advance a bill that could make marijuana use legal.

Marijuana is listed as a Schedule 1 drug under the Controlled Substances Act. This designation essentially treats marijuana as a dangerous substance akin to heroin or LSD – despite the fact that marijuana, unlike those drugs, has legitimate medical benefits. The proposed bill would remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act.

The proposed bill would also require authorities to remove federal cannabis convictions from criminal records.

A lot still needs to happen before the law actually changes. The House Judiciary vote was just the first step in what will be a long process. The proposed bill would need to go to the House floor for a vote. If the House passes the proposed bill, it would then go to the Senate.

The House’s vote reflects the views of the majority of American voters. 68% of voters now view marijuana usage as a non-criminal behavior. In addition, many states have changed their stance on marijuana – particularly because of the monetary benefits it provides (jobs, taxes, etc.). Even John Boehner, former Republican Speaker of the House and a staunch opponent and critic of legalizing marijuana, has changed his tune. Boehner does not sit on the board of one of the largest cannabis companies in the world and lobbies state governments to legalize marijuana. He also offers online seminars to would-be investors on how to get rich investing in cannabis businesses.

Local cosponsors of the bill include state reps Bonnie Watson Coleman (D, NJ), Mary Scanlon (D, PA), and Dwight Evans (D, PA).

Legalization advocates aren’t the only ones who recognize that marijuana’s current restrictive federal classification inhibits research. Recently, a group involving several of the nation’s leading prohibition supporters raised this issue with Congress.

Friends of the National Institute On Drug Abuse (FNIDA) submitted recommended language on the issue to a Senate committee, voicing concern that the status of cannabis as a Schedule I controlled substances is preventing scientists from conducting valuable research.

It’s only a matter of time before the majority of states legalize marijuana. While this will lead to increased tax revenue for said states as well as easier access to the medical benefits of cannabis, it can also create problems that were not an issue before. For instance, states will need to regulate not only who sells cannabis and who grows it, but they will also need to consider whom it is marketed toward. States will also need to establish government oversight of the potency of cannabis products both from a safety perspective and a truth in advertising perspective.

As a criminal defense attorney, I routinely get questions from clients who think that marijuana usage and possession is legal. Technically, it is not. While Philadelphia has decided to “decriminalize” a small amount of marijuana (SAM) cases, other counties throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey still consider it a criminal offense and will prosecute accordingly.

In New Jersey, state leaders are privately discussing a plan to decriminalize marijuana and put an end to arrests for pot possession. State lawmakers are in talks about whether to move forward with a bill that would treat pot possession like a traffic violation in New Jersey— meaning you’d get a fine instead of jail time. This change, should it take effect, would be similar to Philadelphia’s current treatment of SAM cases.

If you or someone you know is charged with a marijuana (or any other drug) offense, you need the help of an experienced attorney. Call the Law Offices of John Della Rocca.