Friday, December 4, 2020
MORE Act passed by US House, but party-line vote suggests uncertain future for federal reform
As reported in this CNN article, headlined "House passes bill decriminalizing marijuana at federal level," a big vote on federal marijuana reform was conducted today. But the vote reveals the still politically divisive nature of this issue, which will surely impact future reform efforts. Here are details:
The House of Representatives has approved legislation that would decriminalize marijuana and seek to "address the devastating injustices caused by the War on Drugs." Friday's vote in the Democratic-led House is the first time a chamber of Congress has voted on federal marijuana decriminalization. It has little chance of passing the Republican-led Senate, however.
The bill passed largely along party lines: 222 Democrats, five Republicans and Rep. Justin Amash, a libertarian, voted in support while 158 Republicans and six Democrats voted against.
The Republicans who voted for the bill are Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz, the bill's co-sponsor, as well as Reps. Brian Mast of Florida, Tom McClintock of California, Denver Riggleman of Virginia and Don Young of Alaska. The Democrats against were Reps. Cheri Bustos and Dan Lipinski of Illinois, Henry Cuellar of Texas, Conor Lamb of Pennsylvania, Chris Pappas of New Hampshire and Collin Peterson of Minnesota....
The MORE Act would remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act and eliminate criminal penalties for individuals who manufacture, distribute or possess marijuana. It also includes creating a process to remove prior convictions, known as expungement, and conduct sentencing review hearings for federal cannabis offenses.
The measure would also authorize a 5% sales tax on marijuana products to invest in services such as job training, legal aid and substance abuse treatment for individuals adversely impacted by the war on drugs. The tax revenue would also provide funds for small businesses loans and allow access to marijuana licensing and employment for economically disadvantaged individuals.
Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell this week criticized the House for moving on the bill instead of passing parts of the Covid-19 stimulus bill that both parties agree on. "The House of Representatives is spending this week on pressing issues like marijuana. You know, serious and important legislation befitting this national crisis," McConnell said sarcastically on the Senate floor.
Critics of the bill cite the lack of potential traction in the Senate. "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," Kevin Sabet, president and co-founder of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, which opposes marijuana legalization, said in a statement....
President-elect Joe Biden supports decriminalizing marijuana and the automatic expungement of prior criminal records for marijuana possession, but not full legalization of the substance, a Biden campaign spokesman said last year. "He would allow states to continue to make their own choices regarding legalization and would seek to make it easier to conduct research on marijuana's positive and negative health impacts by rescheduling it as a schedule 2 drug," Andrew Bates, who is now a spokesperson for the Biden transition, told CNN.