Reflecting changing attitudes among Americans, the House voted Friday to decriminalize marijuana. The measure, approved with support from both parties on a 228-164 vote, also would expunge nonviolent convictions related to marijuana offenses, the New York Times reports. And the drug would no longer be covered by the Controlled Substances Act. It's the first time either chamber of Congress has voted to decriminalize pot, and Politico sees it as a "monumental step in marijuana policy." However, the measure isn't expected to go anywhere in the Senate anytime soon. Still, approval gives lawmakers something to build on in the future. "What we're doing here is ... recognizing that there is a longtime war on civil rights that was instituted by the Nixon administration," says Rep. Jerry Nadler, sponsor of the bill. "And we're eliminating it."
Low-income communities of color have been hurt most by laws and policies intended to reduce the use of marijuana and other drugs, and the measure authorizes a 5% tax on marijuana that could be levied to help those communities and their small businesses, through grant programs. Rep. Jim McGovern says that when he's asked what systemic racism is, he cites the drug laws. "People's lives have been ruined—have been destroyed—by possessing just a small amount of cannabis." Recreational cannabis now is legal in 15 states, and medical marijuana in 35. The ACLU found this year that though Black and white Americans use marijuana at about the same rates, Black people are four times as likely to be arrested for pot possession as white people. (Read more marijuana legalization stories.)