House of Representatives looks to decriminalize marijuana with new bill, students respond

The United States House of Representatives passed new legislation Friday, Dec. 4 that would remove marijuana from the government’s list of scheduled substances and federally decriminalize the drug if agreed upon by the Senate.


While Americans use marijuana at the same rate regardless of race, a Black individual is four times more likely to be arrested on marijuana-related charges than their white counterpart. 


The legislation, dubbed the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act of 2019, aims to counter previous drug policies that have disproportionately affected Black and Brown communities by eliminating the conviction records of people affected by the criminalization of marijuana, including those with non-violent marijuana charges on their records.  


In addition, the MORE Act would change the legal name from marijuana to cannabis and establish programs that would allow communities impacted by the war on drugs to create their own marijuana-related businesses, along with a 5% tax on all marijuana products, which would be used to fund these programs.


Anthea Johnson, a third-year journalism major at Long Beach State, said she was diagnosed with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, a connective tissue disorder, and began using medical cannabis after turning 18 to help alleviate her symptoms.    


“[Ehlers-Danlos syndrome] causes chronic joint pain, nausea, fun stuff like that,” Johnson said. “Thankfully in California getting a medical [recommendation] and everything is really easy, I mean, it’s like $30 to get a piece of paper that says you can smoke pot.”  


While over 30 states, including California, have decriminalized marijuana, it is still classified as a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substance Act, meaning it is considered addictive, with a high potential for abuse and no real medical use.


This puts marijuana under the same list as other drugs, including heroin, ecstasy and lysergic acid diethylamide, or LSD.  


As for marijuana still being illegal on a federal level, this means that students like Johnson cannot use the drug on campus, not even for medicinal purposes, since CSULB is funded by the government.


“This bill potentially passing in the Senate would be a huge deal because it might actually change how the CSU system views cannabis as a whole,” Johnson said. “And potentially allow students to use it medicinally if they have a valid [recommendation].”


She added that she is also looking forward to seeing reform in the criminal justice system for individuals whose records have been affected by non-violent marijuana-related offenses in the past. 


“I partially hope that California will follow suit with Oregon, how they just decriminalized pretty much all drugs,” Johnson said. “[They] made it so that if you’re caught with possession, instead of going to prison you now have to go to state-funded rehab and addiction counseling and actually get help.”


Emily Gelerian, a second-year psychology major, said she would like to see the Senate pass the MORE Act and use taxpayer money for “something useful” but does not believe it will occur under the current political climate. 


Gelerian, who uses cannabis herself, said she supports the bill as she feels there are many medicinal benefits such as alleviating symptoms experienced by those going through chemotherapy or eating disorders.   


“I think the one qualm I have is the fact that there isn’t enough research done on this,” Gelerian said. “So maybe what might enlighten people is having a bit more information because most of the time fear comes from the lack of knowledge.”


Currently, there is little evidence to support the notion that marijuana helps treat chronic pain, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In fact, although many believe that marijuana is not an addictive substance, the CDC found that one in 10 users may become addicted.  


People who use marijuana may also experience short-term and long-term health problems, including memory loss, shortened attention span and lung and cardiovascular issues, according to the CDC. 


Second-year finance major Ali Alsarhani said he believes there should be more research conducted on the legalization of marijuana before Congress as a whole comes to an agreement.


“In my opinion, I think it’s better to not legalize marijuana because it is not good for the health of the people,” Alsarhani said. “On campus, they should [continue to] disallow it, because some people, for example, don’t like the smell of marijuana or the smoke.”


Alsarhani added that he believes there should be statutes put in place that would counter previous policies that have been harmful to communities of colors as long as the use and selling of marijuana is regulated.


Jesus Sanchez, a third-year education major, said that he has never seen marijuana as a harmful drug and wouldn’t mind it being legalized.


“Keep in mind, this is from somebody who doesn’t even smoke,” Sanchez said. “I never really saw the big deal with marijuana, I never really saw it on like a big threat level.”


Sanchez said that while he supports the legalization of marijuana, the House passing the MORE Act seems like a misguided attempt, or “almost a distraction,” to avoid addressing more relevant concerns during the coronavirus pandemic.


However, Sanchez added that whether “you’re conservative or liberal,” there is an economic benefit to this bill as the billion-dollar marijuana industry continues to boom, potentially opening up jobs for Americans during a time when many have lost theirs due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The House still awaits the Republican-led Senate to vote on the MORE Act before moving forward with enacting any changes to drug policies, which still classifies dispensaries as drug traffickers on a federal level.

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