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House passes legislation to federally decriminalize marijuana in historic vote

Neither chamber of Congress has ever voted on marijuana decriminalization, but that changed on Friday when the House of Representatives voted to pass legislation that would decriminalize marijuana use at the federal level.

In the historic vote, the House voted to pass the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act. The final vote on the cannabis bill was 228-164, mostly down party lines. There were five Republicans who voted in favor of the measure, including Reps. Brian Mast (Fla.), Matt Gaetz (Fla.), Denver Riggleman (Va.), Don Young (Alaska), and Tom McClintock (Calif.).

Six Democrats voted against their party to oppose the bill, including Reps. Cheri Bustos (Ill.) Dan Lipinski (Ill.) Henry Cuellar (Texas), Conor Lamb (Pa.), Chris Pappas (N.H.), and Collin Peterson (Minn.).

While the bill passed in the House, it is not expected to pass the GOP-controlled Senate.

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The proposed legislation would remove marijuana from the federal list of controlled substances, thus decriminalizing it on a federal level. The legislation would also mandate a reassessment of prior marijuana convictions and expunge some marijuana convictions for nonviolent criminals.

The legislation creates a federal tax on marijuana sales that would begin at 5%. The bill would still allow states to establish their own rules and regulations regarding sales and access to medical marijuana.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), who introduced the bill, said on Friday before the vote, “The MORE Act is a common-sense bill that will make a tangible, real difference in the lives of millions of Americans. I’m proud of this bill centered around ideals of racial, economic, and moral justice and I look forward to the House passing it today.”

Oregon Democratic Rep. Earl Blumenauer, one of the bill’s original sponsors, said during Friday’s House floor debate, “We’re not rushing to legalize marijuana. The American people have already done that. We’re here because Congress has failed to deal with a disastrous war on drugs and do its part for the over 15 million marijuana users in every one of your districts.”

Gaetz, the only Republican co-sponsor of the bill, said he was voting for the bill “because the federal government has lied to the people of this country about marijuana for a generation.”

“My Republican colleagues today will make a number of arguments against this bill, but those arguments are overwhelmingly losing with the American people,” Gaetz said. “I’m going to vote for the MORE Act. It won’t pass the Senate. It won’t become law. We should come back in the 117th Congress and we should truly do more for our people.”

Republican lawmakers lampooned Democrats this week for putting up a vote on the legalization of marijuana before securing COVID-19 pandemic relief for Americans. Republicans were also frustrated that Congress made it a priority to review a bill that will attempt to ban breeding and private ownership of big cats, as seen in the Netflix docuseries “Tiger King,” before a coronavirus package.

“This week, your House Democrat majority is tackling the tough issues by holding a vote on legalizing pot and banning tiger ownership,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy tweeted on Monday. “Nothing for small businesses. Nothing for re-opening schools. Nothing on battling the pandemic. Just cannabis and cats.”

House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) proclaimed, “Let me get this straight: Nancy Pelosi is blocking a bill to deliver unused Paycheck Protection Program funds to workers and small businesses. But she managed to find time for a vote on pot legislation this week.”

“Things @SpeakerPelosi brought members back to vote on: Legalizing marijuana Tiger King legislation,” Rep. Bruce Westerman (R-Ark.) said. “Things we aren’t voting on: More PPP funding COVID-19 relief Military funding Funding for the entire federal government It’s clear where Democrats’ priorities lie.”

Recreational cannabis is legal for adults in 15 states and Washington, D.C., while there are 36 states that have legalized medical marijuana.

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