Dec 4, 2020 - Politics & Policy

House passes bill to decriminalize marijuana

Earl Blumenauer

Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), a longtime marijuana legalization advocate and co-sponsor of the bill. Photo: Pete Marovich For The Washington Post via Getty Images

The House on Friday voted 228-164 in favor of the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, marking the first time a congressional chamber has voted in favor of decriminalizing marijuana at the federal level.

Why it matters: The Washington Post describes the bill as a "landmark retreat in the nation’s decades-long war on drugs," which has disproportionately affected people of color.

  • In addition to decriminalizing marijuana federally, the bill provides for expunging some marijuana convictions and a 5% excise tax on marijuana that would help fund programs for “individuals most adversely impacted by the war on drugs.”
  • The bill is virtually guaranteed to fail in the Senate, but the House vote — which fell largely along party lines — shows just how mainstream the push to decriminalize marijuana has become in recent years.

Between the lines: A vote on the bill was stalled in the House in October following concerns that a coronavirus relief package was more pressing and that passing a marijuana bill would put moderate Democrats in a vulnerable position before the election.

  • House Republicans did not hold back in attacking Democrats for holding the vote, casting it as a frivolous, dead-end effort and accusing them of prioritizing "cannabis instead of COVID."
  • Progressive activists, meanwhile, have hailed the bill as a step toward justice.

The big picture: Marijuana is legal for recreational adult use in 15 states and legal for medicinal use in 36 states. A 2019 Axios/SurveyMonkey poll found that 63% of Americans support the federal legalization of marijuana.

What they're saying:

  • Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), the only House Republican to co-sponsor the bill, said in a speech: "If we were measuring the success of the war on drugs … drugs have won. Because the American people do not support the policies of incarceration, limited research, limited choice and, particularly, constraining medical application."
  • Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), a longtime marijuana advocate, said: “We are not rushing to legalize marijuana — the American people have already done that. We are here because Congress has failed to deal with a disastrous war on drugs and do its part for the over 50 million regular marijuana users in every one of your districts. We need to catch up with the rest of the American people.”
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