Five Republicans vote for bill to decriminalize marijuana

Five House Republicans bucked party lines and voted in favor of legislation to decriminalize marijuana at the federal level on Friday. 

GOP Reps. Matt Gaetz (Fla.) — the only GOP co-sponsor on the bill — Denver Riggleman (Va.), Don Young (Alaska), Tom McClintock (Calif.) and Brian Mast (Fla.) joined Democrats in supporting the measure, which passed in a 228-164 vote. 

The sweeping legislation includes language to remove marijuana from the federal list of controlled substances and would expunge certain marijuana convictions.

Gaetz in a floor speech said that while he doesn’t think the bill is perfect, it is a step in the right direction in bringing down unjust incarcerations and potentially advance innovation in the health care industry in the United States. 

“The MORE Act is flawed; it uses cannabis policy to do a great deal of social engineering to create new taxes and new programs and redistribution of assets. But I am here as the only Republican co-sponsor of the MORE Act, and I’m voting for it because the federal government has lied to the people of this country about marijuana for a generation,” he said.  

“We have seen a generation, particularly of black and brown youth, locked up for offenses that should not have resulted in any incarceration whatsoever. I’m also deeply troubled that the current policy the federal government inhibits research into cannabis, research that could unlock cures and help people live better lives. My Republican colleagues today will make a number of arguments against this bill, but those arguments are overwhelmingly losing with the American people,” he continued.

Riggleman also noted some differences over language in the bill, but said there are inconsistencies with marijuana policy that needed to be addressed. 

“The MORE Act is not perfect, but it does address problems related to federal marijuana policy,” he said. “Federal marijuana policy is filled with issues and inconsistencies. I don’t know why we can’t draft a simple one-page bill that de-schedules marijuana and delegates this authority to the states.”

Riggleman said that his brother was incarcerated for a marijuana charge, something that has shaped his stance. He said his family owns and runs a distillery, but that he will “humbly submit that alcohol can be much worse than marijuana.”

“I don’t think there are a lot of Republicans that have a sibling that’s been incarcerated for marijuana. It was actually a felony for him. And he has such a difficult time after that, trying to get away from a felony conviction,” he told The Hill.

“And it’s just I think we’re at a point where we have to be honest about marijuana, decriminalize it, but also allow the states to have control over how they react to and how they control marijuana.”

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

The bill marked the first time either chamber has passed legislation to decriminalize cannabis on the federal level.

Tags Brian Mast Denver Riggleman Don Young drug legalization marijuana legalization Matt Gaetz medical marijuana Tom McClintock

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