For just the second time in history, the U.S. House of Representatives on Friday passed a bill to legalize marijuana federally. In today’s hyperpartisan environment, it’s hard to get Congress-critters across the aisle to vote for anything. But the Marijuana Opportunity and Record Expungement Act (MORE Act) did that. Lawmakers voted to legalize with a slim bipartisan majority, 220 to 204, reports CNN.
Republicans Tom McClintock of California, and Brian Mast and Matt Gaetz, both of Florida, joined almost all Democrats in supporting the bill. But two timid Democrats, Henry Cuellar of Texas and Chris Pappas of New Hampshire, actually voted against legal weed.
Democratic Rep. Jerry Nadler of New York sponsors the MORE Act. It will prevent federal agencies from denying federal workers security clearances for cannabis use It will also allow the Veterans’ Administration to recommend medical marijuana to veterans living with posttraumatic stress disorder.
Most Republicans, predictably, hate the bill. GOP Representative Michelle Fischbach claimed MORE is “not only flawed but dangerous. She said on the House floor that it would encourage people to open marijuana businesses. Fischbach failed to explain how that is a bad thing.
The bill gains revenue by authorizing a federal sales tax on marijuana sales.
Expunges Marijuana Arrest Records
The bill also expunges the records of people convicted of nonviolent marijuana offenses. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said these “can haunt people of color and impact the trajectory of their lives and career indefinitely.”
“It can result in difficulty finding employment, difficulty finding housing, denial of access of federal benefits, denial of financial aid at colleges and universities, and denial of the right to vote,” Hoyer said. “That’s why we’re dealing with this.”
The bill would “end decades of failed and unjust marijuana policy,” Democratic Representative Ed Perlmutter said on the House floor on Thursday. “It is clear prohibition is over,” he said, reports Reuters. ”Today we have an opportunity to chart a new path forward on federal cannabis policy that actually makes sense.”
Senate Democrats have a similar legalization bill in the upper chamber. But observers expect neither that nor the MORE Act to clear the 60-vote threshold for passage in the Senate, due to GOP opposition.
House Speaker Pelosi: ”I’m All For It”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi praised the legislation during her weekly news conference Thursday, telling reporters the legislation is “consistent with what is happening in many states across the country.”
“It also addresses the injustices of it because of what penalties had been before some of these, this decriminalization took place,” Pelosi added. “So I’m all for it.”
A similar bill passed in December 2020, championed in the House by the late Rep. Don Young of Alaska. Young was was a co-founder of the House Cannabis Caucus. But that legislation died last month before the bill made it to the floor for another vote.
The adult-use Cannabis market alone hit nearly $15 billion in 2021, reports CNET. It’s on track to surpass $25 billion by 2025. But the use, possession and sale of marijuana are still prohibited by federal law. That’s what created this hella mess that many lawmakers are eager to fix.
Removes Cannabis From Controlled Substances List
The MORE Act would remove marijuana from the list of scheduled controlled substances, reports Scripps. The legislation would leave it up to states to set their own laws surrounding marijuana.
Friday is the second time House Democrats have voted to legalize marijuana. Democrats last passed the legislation in 2020.
The bill now heads to the Senate, where it’s expected to face a much steeper climb. The presence of 50 Republicans in the Senate make it challenging to pass a legalization bill. Democrats need the help of at least nine of those 50 GOP senators. In that scenario, Vice President Kamala Harris’ tie-breaking vote would get MORE across the goal line.