This week: House set to vote on marijuana legalization bill
House Democrats are set to pass legislation this week to legalize marijuana at the federal level.
The bill, authored by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) and titled the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act, would remove cannabis from the list of federal controlled substances and eliminate criminal penalties associated with the drug.
It would also impose a federal tax on marijuana sales to fund programs to help communities negatively impacted by the war on drugs.
The bill is set to be taken up by the House Rules Committee on Wednesday and get a vote on the floor by the end of the week.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), in a “Dear Colleague” letter, said that the bill would “restore justice to communities that have been disproportionately impacted by harsh penalties for possessing even small amounts of marijuana.”
“This legislation — which the House passed last Congress — would decriminalize marijuana, expunge the federal arrests and convictions of nonviolent marijuana offenders, prohibit the denial of federal public benefits, and provide resources to support long-term economic recovery efforts for communities of color,” Hoyer added.
When the House previously passed a version of the legislation in 2020, six Democrats voted against the bill while five Republicans backed it.
Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) has vowed to make legalizing marijuana at the federal level a priority. He recently sent a letter to senators asking for input on legislation he’s been working on with Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.).
“We write today to invite you into the drafting process as we work to finalize this legislation. In order to appropriately address such a nuanced issue, we respectfully request the input, advice and guidance of Chairs and Ranking Members of relevant committees as well as senators who have dealt with the challenges and realities of legalization in their own states,” the senators wrote.
But marijuana legislation is expected to hit a wall in the Senate, where it would need 60 votes, including the support of at least 10 GOP senators if every Democrat backed it, in order to advance.
China competitiveness bill
The House and Senate are expected to vote to formally go to conference as soon as this week to work out a deal on their dueling China competitiveness bills.
The Senate locked in a deal to pass its bill again on Monday, using the House bill as a vehicle — a procedural step that sets up the House to vote to go to a conference committee. The Senate is then expected to go to conference.
“With the Senate now scheduled to amend the America COMPETES Act of 2022 with its own version and send it back to us, the House will vote to go to conference this work period. Together, we are moving one step closer to securing the enactment of a bipartisan innovation bill that will secure our supply chains and help bring costs down while ramping innovation up,” Hoyer said in his “Dear Colleague” letter.
The Senate worked out its deal to pass the competitiveness legislation on Monday as part of an agreement between Schumer and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).
When the Senate votes to go to a conference with the House, Sanders wants two votes: one related to microchip companies and another related to $10 billion for NASA’s lunar landing program. Republicans are also expected to request votes on instructions for the negotiators who will work out the final deal between the two House and Senate bills.
Russia trade, oil ban bills
Two Russia-related bills are facing a logjam in the Senate after Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) blocked quick votes on legislation to end normal trade relations with Russia and a separate bill to ban Russian oil imports.
Paul’s objection is tied to Magnitsky Act sanctions that are reauthorized as part of the trade legislation. The Magnitsky Act targets “gross” human rights violations, but the Russia trade bill changes that to “serious” human rights violations, codifying language used in a Trump-era executive order.
But Paul, in a floor speech, said that he wanted to amend the Russia trade bill to change the language back to “gross” human rights violations.
Schumer tried to get Paul to agree to a vote on his amendment in exchange for speeding up the Russia trade legislation and the oil ban bill. But Paul, in an interview, said that he wasn’t going to settle for an amendment vote but instead wanted his language in the bill.
“We’ve just told them they need to put the definition in there of what a human rights abuse is,” Paul said. “But we won’t let them pass it unless they put it in there so, they’re either going to put it in there or they’re going to be here for a week doing it.”
Though the oil ban and the bill to end normal trade relations with Russia passed the House separately, they are effectively tied together in the Senate. Schumer initially tried to take up just the trade legislation last week, but Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) blocked him. Schumer and Crapo eventually reached a deal that the trade legislation and an amendment version of the oil ban bill would get back-to-back votes on the Senate floor.
If Paul doesn’t drop his objection, it could take weeks for the Senate to pass both bills. The Senate floor is already expected to be dominated next week by Ketanji Brown Jackson’s Supreme Court nomination, and then the chamber is leaving for a two-week break expected to start on April 8.
The floor drama comes as the Senate is also expected to get closed-door briefing this week on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Supreme Court nominee
Jackson’s nomination will be on the Judiciary Committee’s agenda for the first time on Monday.
The Judiciary Committee is scheduled to meet that day at 3 p.m.
But Jackson’s nomination is expected to be held over for a week, with the committee vote taking place April 4.
Democrats want to confirm Jackson before they leave for the two-week April break.
Democrats are able to confirm Jackson on their own as long as all 50 of their members support her nomination and are present to vote. The caucus’s support for Jackson solidified last week, when Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) formally announced that he would support her.
Manchin was viewed as likely to support Jackson, but he and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) have bucked the party on legislation. Sinema hasn’t yet said if she will support Jackson’s nomination.
No Republican has said yet if they will support Jackson. Three previously voted for her for the appeals court seat: Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska).
Jackson is also expected to keep meeting one-on-one with senators this week.
The Hill has removed its comment section, as there are many other forums for readers to participate in the conversation. We invite you to join the discussion on Facebook and Twitter.