The House Judiciary Committee has approved a bill that would decriminalize marijuana across the U.S. in a landmark 24-10 vote.

It is the first time a marijuana law has ever passed out of a Congressional committee and it sparked optimism that the U.S. could soon legalize recreational marijuana use.

The committee debated the merits of HR 3384, the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act of 2019. Sen. Kamala Harris has introduced a companion bill in the Senate.

It seeks to remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act, a move that would decriminalize cannabis at a federal level. Medical marijuana is legal in 33 states and 11 permit recreational marijuana, while others have decriminalized it, but this represents the most progress ever made at a federal level.

The MORE Act also plans to reimburse Americans that were adversely impacted by the war on drugs and expunge certain cannabis convictions.

Thousands of individuals, overwhelmingly people of colour, have been subjected by the federal government to unjust prison sentences for marijuana offenses – this needs to stop,” said Rep. Jerry Nadler, the House Judiciary Committee chair, in his opening remarks.

Nadler, a New York Democrat, is a co-sponsor of the bill along with others such as Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida. The bill has the support of the most senior House Democrat, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, which could augur well for its safe passage.

It has cleared the first hurdle, but a long journey lies ahead. Several committees could seize upon the bill before it reaches the full chamber for a vote. Among them is the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which contains very few sponsors of the MORE Act, and there is the potential for delays and amendments.

Yet advocates are in a buoyant, celebratory mood. Rep. Barbara Lee, one of the chief proponents of the bill, Tweeted to express her determination to advance the MORE Act. Campaign group the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) called it “a truly historic moment” in American political history, while urging a full House vote so that every member of Congress can show his or her constituents which side of history they stand on.

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