Just three GOP lawmakers back marijuana legalization vote; two Dems vote ‘no’

Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) is seen during a press conference on Tuesday, December 7, 2021 to release a report about those who were arrested for Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol entitled ‘Unusually Cruel: An Eyewitness Report from Inside the D.C. Jail.’
Greg Nash

Only three House Republicans joined with all but two Democrats on Friday in support of legislation to legalize marijuana nationwide.

The three Republicans were Reps. Matt Gaetz (Fla.), Brian Mast (Fla.) and Tom McClintock (Calif.).

Meanwhile, Democratic Reps. Henry Cuellar (Texas) and Chris Pappas (N.H.) were the only members of their party to join most Republicans in opposition.

All three Republicans previously voted in favor of a similar bill that the House passed in December 2020. The two other Republicans who backed the legislation at the time, former Reps. Don Young (Alaska) and Denver Riggleman (Va.), are no longer in Congress.

Gaetz is the only official GOP co-sponsor of the legislation, which passed on Friday.

The bill, titled the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act, would eliminate criminal penalties for distribution and possession of marijuana and remove it from the federal list of controlled substances. It would also create a process to expunge marijuana-related convictions from people’s criminal records.

The measure would further establish a tax on marijuana sales, starting at 5 percent and gradually increasing to 8 percent, to fund programs to help communities negatively impacted by punitive drug policies that led to mass incarceration.

Other Republicans who back marijuana legalization opposed the bill on Friday because they believed Democratic leaders should have taken a more bipartisan approach.

Rep. Dave Joyce (R-Ohio), a Congressional Cannabis Caucus co-chair, said in a statement that he doesn’t think the bill goes far enough to ensure marijuana use should be limited to adults.

“I cannot support a proposal that does not take into account, aside from the physician prescribed treatment of a minor, that cannabis is and should remain an adult product with federal safety and production regulations that ensure it is suitable for consumption,” Joyce said.

“As a co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, I remain dedicated to the swift and responsible end of cannabis prohibition and as a former prosecutor, I believe in effectively addressing the unjust consequences of the criminalization of cannabis. These goals cannot be achieved with a messaging bill,” Joyce added.

Another Republican who supports marijuana legalization, Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.), called for changes to the bill to make it closer to her own legislation.

Mace’s bill would establish an age limit of 21 for marijuana use, just like with alcohol, and impose a lower tax on marijuana sales than the House Democratic version that passed on Friday.

“They didn’t allow any Republican amendments on it. In order to get it done, it needs to be a bipartisan effort,” Mace told The Hill.

Pappas said that he supports decriminalizing marijuana but could not support the bill because he wanted provisions that would specifically prevent violent felons, people involved in organized crime or fentanyl traffickers from having their federal records expunged.

“I support decriminalizing marijuana, taking it off Schedule I, and making important federal reforms so states can choose how to appropriately regulate these substances. But the MORE Act is not the right way to do this. It is a deeply flawed bill that contains loopholes that would jeopardize public safety for Granite Staters and all Americans,” Pappas, who represents a district expected to be competitive in this year’s elections, said in a statement.

Emily Brooks contributed.

Tags Brian Mast brian mast Chris Pappas Chris Pappas Dave Joyce Henry Cuellar marijuana legalization Matt Gaetz Matt Gaetz Tom McClintock Tom McClintock

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