Washington: The US House of Representatives passed a legislation to decriminalise marijuana at the federal level, with a partisan divide.
The bill was approved largely along party lines, 220-204, with three Republicans joining all but two Democrats in support, reports Xinhua news agency.
The legislation would eliminate criminal penalties for anyone who manufactures, distributes, or possesses marijuana, and formally remove it from the federal list of controlled substances.
It would also establish procedures for expunging previous convictions from people’s records while proposing a tax on the sales of cannabis products.
Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler said on the House floor that the bill was “long overdue” but would not “undermine the ability of states to apply their criminal laws to marijuana or to legalise and regulate it, as they see fit”.
“For far too long, we have treated marijuana as a criminal justice problem instead of as a matter of personal choice and public health,” argued the New York Democrat.
Jim Jordan, the top Republican on the House panel, accused Democrats of “legalising drugs and using American tax dollars to kick start and prop up the marijuana industry”.
The measure now goes to the Senate, where Democrats are reportedly working to introduce a marijuana legalization bill as soon as this spring.
However, the House legislation is unlikely to secure 60 votes to clear the evenly-split upper chamber.
At least 37 states, four territories, and Washington, D.C. allow the use of marijuana for medical use, according to the National Conference on State Legislatures.
About half that number — 18 states, two territories, and the nation’s capital — have enacted measures to regulate cannabis for adult non-medical use.
Democrats have also sought to frame their measure as a way to reverse the disproportionate impact of criminalising marijuana on racial minorities.
Despite roughly equal usage rates, African Americans are 3.73 times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.
Marijuana refers to the dried flowers, leaves, stems, and seeds of the cannabis plant, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said.
The cannabis plant contains more than 100 compounds, including tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is impairing or mind-altering.
Marijuana, the CDC revealed, is the most commonly used federally illegal drug in the US, with an estimated 48.2 million people using it in 2019, and its use may have a wide range of health effects on the body and brain.