Moderate Democrats push leadership to pull marijuana legislation

Moderate Democrats push leadership to pull marijuana legislation
© Greg Nash

Centrist Democrats are pushing House Democratic leadership to pull legislation expected to reach the House floor next week that would decriminalize marijuana at the federal level. 

The Democrats are expressing frustrations the bill is slated to come to come up for a vote before other pressing matters. 

Specifically, a number of front-line members have raised concerns about the optics of holding a vote on the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment, and Expungement (MORE) Act before a coronavirus stimulus package and a government funding bill are passed. 

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Negotiators have struggled for months to strike a deal on additional coronavirus relief, with the parties remaining at an impasse over funding levels. Congress has until Sept. 30 to pass funding to avert a government shutdown. 

"At a time when people are really struggling just to pay the bills and to get through this health crisis, [COVID relief] should be our priority," said centrist Rep. Scott PetersScott H. PetersModerate Democrats push leadership to pull marijuana legislation One doctor's thoughts on a hopeful future Pelosi axes idea of Saturday vote on additional COVID relief MORE (D-Calif.). He said he's suggested to Democratic leaders that the marijuana bill is "probably something I would support but we should do it later on."

Another member said colleagues have argued that “it's not something that you can get passed into law,” so it shouldn’t be prioritized over more time-sensitive issues. 

Moderate Democrats have been up in arms that party leaders have signaled an intention to vote on the marijuana bill this month, just weeks before the elections when many vulnerable lawmakers are scrambling to keep their seats. 

"This is the month when the Democratic Caucus is giving its closing arguments to the American people about what their priorities are and how they're going to govern. And prioritizing weed smokers over funding the government and providing relief to families and small businesses doesn't make much sense to the American people," said a senior Democratic aide associated with the moderate wing of the party.

"There are some policy concerns with the bill itself — the bill goes far beyond legalizing marijuana," the aide added. "But that is ultimately the main concern, is the timing of this."

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Another senior Democratic aide said that moderates are making their concerns known to leadership.

“The priority should be legislation that helps individuals and families deal with the effects of the ongoing pandemic, not this bill,” the aide said.

House Majority Leader Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerCentrist Democrats got their COVID bill, now they want a vote House to vote on resolution affirming peaceful transition of power On The Money: Anxious Democrats push for vote on COVID-19 aid | Pelosi, Mnuchin ready to restart talks | Weekly jobless claims increase | Senate treads close to shutdown deadline MORE (D-Md.) suggested Tuesday morning that he has heard those concerns loud and clear, saying that while he supports the marijuana proposal, Democratic leaders will be prioritizing the continuing resolution (CR) and COVID-19 relief in the days and weeks ahead. He did not commit to voting on the MORE Act.

"We are really focused on a CR and on the COVID-19, which are the two critical pieces of legislation within this three-week period we have to pass," Hoyer said on a press call. "I'm a supporter of the MORE Act, but we've got to get the CR and COVID-19 done because they're absolutely critical to the welfare of our country." 

But supporters of bringing the legislation to the floor argue the lack of a COVID-19 relief bill should not derail other priorities. 

"I know there's some people are saying they don't want to vote on the one unless we pass a stimulus first — I don't think that they go together,” one Democratic lawmaker told The Hill, noting it has garnered support from members on both sides of the aisle. 

Scott Wong contributed. 

Updated: 7:09 p.m.