House passes sweeping reform bill to decriminalize marijuana

The House on Friday passed sweeping legislation that would decriminalize marijuana at the federal level, the first time either chamber of Congress has voted to legalize cannabis.

The measure, the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, passed on a largely party-line vote of 228-164.

Six Democrats voted against the legislation and five Republicans voted for it. The GOP-controlled Senate is not expected to take up the measure.

The legislation would remove marijuana from the federal list of controlled substances and expunge some marijuana convictions for nonviolent criminals.

“The MORE Act is a common-sense bill that will make a tangible, real difference in the lives of millions of Americans. I’m proud of this bill centered around ideals of racial, economic, and moral justice and I look forward to the House passing it today,” House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), who introduced the bill, tweeted before Friday’s vote.

The bill would allow states to continue to establish their own rules and regulations regarding sales and access to medical marijuana. Individuals would no longer be prosecuted federally for marijuana offenses, leaving the question of legality to states.

Recreational cannabis is legal in 15 states and Washington, D.C., and 34 states have legalized medical marijuana.

“We’re here because we have failed three generations of Black and Brown young people, whose lives can be ruined, or lost, by selective enforcement of these laws. This legislation will end that disaster. It’s time for Congress to step up and do its part,” said Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, on the House floor.

Republicans who voted in favor of the legislation included Reps. Brian Mast (Fla.), Matt Gaetz (Fla.), Tom McClintock (Calif.), Denver Riggleman (Va.), and Don Young (Alaska).

Senate Republicans have declined to take up similar legislation passed by the House. In September 2019, the House passed a measure that would allow banks to work with cannabis businesses, but it has not advanced in the Senate.

Friday’s bill was backed by groups like the National Cannabis Industry Association, the Marijuana Policy Project and the American Civil Liberties Union, which all lobbied for its passage.

The anti-cannabis group Smart Approaches to Marijuana criticized the House vote on Friday.

“It’s an unserious bill that was voted on in an unserious manner and we rest easily knowing there is zero interest in moving this bill in the Senate and zero interest in supporting it in either the current administration or the incoming one,” said the group’s president, Kevin Sabet. 

He added that Congress should be focused instead on coronavirus relief. 

“Every lawmaker and lobbyist who voted on this and spent even a second working to pass this bill should be ashamed of themselves,” Sabet said.

Updated at 2:22 p.m.

Tags Brian Mast Cannabis Denver Riggleman Don Young Earl Blumenauer Jerry Nadler Marijuana Matt Gaetz Tom McClintock weed

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