Oregon Democratic MP Earl Blumenauer has been pushing federal decriminalization laws for years, arguing that Americans have already shown their support by voting for cannabis legalization in states across the country. Hide home TV via AP caption
Home TV via AP
Home TV via AP
The House of Representatives approved the decriminalization of marijuana at the federal level on Friday when Congress first took action on the matter.
The vote was largely partisan – 228-164. Five Republicans and the only independent member joined the Democrats to get the bill passed, and six Democrats voted no.
The bill, known as the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act or MORE Act, removes cannabis from the list of state-controlled substances and makes it easier to overturn low-level convictions and arrests related to marijuana.
The legislation is not expected to pass in the Republican-controlled Senate.
The bill is a way for Democrats to send a message about their attitudes towards drugs in a nation where more cities and states have already gained more acceptance. It creates an excise tax on cannabis sales and passes the money on to communities affected by the so-called war on drugs.
In particular, the bill adds incentives for minority-owned companies to help them enter the cannabis market, which has exploded in recent years due to the easing of controls in some places in the US.
Jerry Nadler, chairman of the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee, DN.Y., who sponsored the bill, said he thinks Washington shouldn’t lag behind parts of the nation that far.
“Federal government action on this issue would follow growing recognition in the states that the status quo is unacceptable. Despite the continued criminalization of marijuana by the federal government, 36 states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical cannabis. Fifteen states and the District of Columbia have legalized cannabis for recreational adult use. “
Many other House Democrats who have spoken out in favor of federal action also said it was long overdue. They uphold the federal prohibition on research into marijuana, and the current criminal laws relating to many arrests of marijuana possession have unintended consequences – especially among poor and minority communities.
Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., Who wore a “Good Problems” mask from the late Civil Rights Icon, John Lewis, formulated the bill as an “important measure of racial justice.”
Rep. Jim Clyburn, DS.C., tweeted that “Colored people are 4X more likely to be arrested for possession of cannabis than white people for having used cannabis. They are also more likely to receive longer and tougher sentences.”
Today the House passed the MORE bill that decriminalize marijuana, overturn nonviolent federal marijuana convictions, and more.
47 states have reformed their laws regarding marijuana possession and use.
It is time for the federal government to join them.
– James E. Clyburn (@WhipClyburn) December 4, 2020
Republicans strongly denounced the move, saying criminals should not be released early.
Some opponents also said that federal decriminalization would contribute to more deaths and injuries from disabled drivers who use marijuana. Ohio Rep Jim Jordan, the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, noted that the American Medical Association published a letter against the legislation.
And Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Ariz., Who found himself serving as a prosecutor on cases related to alcohol and drugs, said the nation needs “a serious discussion about it – not a mix of ideas.” and hopes instead of data-driven science. “
Democrats argue that many citizens have already accepted new guidelines for pot and that work in Congress would only catch up with what is normal for millions of people today.
“More than half of all Americans live in states where cannabis is legal,” said Rep. Lou Correa, D-Calif. He also pushed for a change to legalize cannabis for medical treatment for veterans, highlighting the importance of more research on the subject.
“Lives can be ruined by the selective enforcement of these laws,” said Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., A longtime advocate of decriminalization. He also noted that former House Speaker John Boehner, a lifelong Republican from a Conservative area outside of Cincinnati, is now a spokesman for the marijuana industry.
Priorities on the hill
However, the broader argument that many Republicans made was that Democrats are wasting time debating an issue that is unlikely to become law instead of passing coronavirus-fighting laws.
“Come on man – families are losing their livelihoods, people hurt,” said Rep. Pete Stauber, R-Minn. The majority are focused on the wrong agenda, he said, either because it is measures like pot billing that Democrats know will not become law, or because Stauber called stupid distractions.
Regarding a vote the day before that banned private ownership of big cats, Stauber said, “Our priorities shouldn’t be to legalize drugs or to ban tigers.”
Democrats reject accusations that they are not serious.
Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, said House spokeswoman Nancy Pelosi, D-California, has been working for months to get a coronavirus relief bill, and talks showed new movements. She also said the marijuana bill would save lives.
“The imbalance against people with color was a tragedy,” said Jackson Lee.
With time running out for the current congressional session and the GOP-controlled Senate having no intention of taking up the bill, the vote on Friday was largely symbolic. Democratic leaders had initially planned to vote on the law before the elections. But in the weeks leading up to the election and little movement over a coronavirus bill, they postponed the vote to avoid political attacks on members in competitive districts.
Jordan noted that the vote on the issue now also disagreed with public opinion.
“Maybe that’s why they lost 27 seats out of 27,” he said of the Democrats. Jordan grouped the marijuana bill with Democratic leaders’ focus on “defusing the police” – a line of scrimmage that many moderates say cost their races this year.
Most Democrats specifically said they did not want to withdraw money for law enforcement, and the police reform bill passed that summer contained no language that would do this. However, according to some commentators and members of Congress, the “Defund the Police” bumper sticker was enough to convince some voters that Democrats were radicals.
Views on this vary within the party – the most liberal members oppose this thesis – and it is not yet clear whether voters could punish members of Congress in future marijuana polls in the same way as they did as ” defund “were perceived by the police.”
Although the marijuana bill is expected to die in the Senate this year, Democrats could vote on a similar bill in the next session of Congress.
President-elect Joe Biden supports decriminalization. Control over the Senate is still unclear, pending two runoff elections that will determine the majority in January.