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House votes to federally decriminalize marijuana, will it help Tennessee's chances at legalizing the drug?

Advocates say the vote by the House to decriminalize marijuana is historic and may impact states like Tennessee.

MEMPHIS, Tenn — MEMPHIS, Tenn. (localmemphis.com) - Friday marked a historic vote by the U.S. House of Representatives which passed a marijuana act that would federally decriminalize the substance.   

The vote passed mostly down party lines.   

But will the vote impact Tennessee’s marijuana laws?  

Advocates say this is a significant moment for the marijuana reform movement, with a chance to help efforts in the Volunteer State.   

“It does eliminate federal scheduling of marijuana, federal penalties for marijuana, it gives expungement of people’s records for being convicted in the past for marijuana,” said Congressman Steve Cohen.   

Cohen voted for the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement or MORE Act.   

It passed 228-164.   

“If you go to a dispensary in Denver today the only thing available is marijuana,” said Matthew Schweich, the deputy director of the Marijuana Policy Project. “If you go buy marijuana today in Tennessee, you’re going to an unregulated market where you’re far more likely to have the opportunity to buy harder drugs.”  

The Marijuana Policy Project is an organization aimed at ending the prohibition of cannabis.    

“I think it’s going to help advocates in Tennessee make the case to voters in the state that legalization is a good policy,” said Schweich.   

Schweich also believes the act may help state legislatures have fewer hesitations about pushing forward legislation that may conflict with federal law.   

“Tennessee’s marijuana laws are very harsh and completely out of touch with what the people of Tennessee want,” he said.   

Yet in a statement, Congressman David Kustoff said in part, “As a former U.S. Attorney, I have witnessed firsthand how narcotics like marijuana lead to further addiction and plague our communities. This bill would only encourage more reckless use of the drug and undermine our law enforcement.”  

“I don’t know if it’ll pass the Senate,” said Cohen. “I doubt that Mitch McConnell will schedule it. But the fact that it passed the house gives it some strength towards next year.” 

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