House Prepares for Historic Vote on Marijuana Decriminalization

(AP file photo/Matilde Campodonico)

WASHINGTON (CN) — Nearly two dozen bills were discussed in the House Thursday, with lawmakers largely focusing on setting up rules for debate Friday on the federal decriminalization of marijuana.

The Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act, or MORE Act, was first introduced in July of last year to decriminalize cannabis.

If passed by the Senate and signed into law by the president, it would remove marijuana from being listed on the Controlled Substances Act. The bill is not expected to clear either hurdle.

Along with a program for those charged with marijuana crimes to expunge their convictions, the MORE Act would impose a 5% federal tax on cannabis products in recreational states, which would fund businesses and communities impacted by the war on drugs.

The bill also would make Small Business Administration loans available to cannabis-focused industries, restrict the denial of federal benefits due to cannabis-related convictions and direct the Government Accountability Office to study marijuana legalization’s societal impact.

A vote on the bill’s passage is expected Friday.

Rules Committee Chairman Jim McGovern said from the House floor Thursday it was not hyperbole to say over half of U.S. drug arrests are related to cannabis use or possession. Disproportionately, he said, those arrests were focused on communities and individuals of color.

“If people want to know what systemic racism is, look at how our drug laws are enforced in this country,” McGovern said. “If you looked like me and you were caught with a small amount of cannabis, you would probably get off with a very, very light sentence, if anything. But if the color of your skin were black or brown, it’s a whole different story.”

He added: “Our system of drug laws is what systemic racism is in this country.”

Many members on both sides of the aisle bid farewell to Congressman Rob Woodall, a Georgia Republican, who announced he would not seek reelection last year.

Woodall opened opposition to the MORE Act for Republicans, saying he respected his colleagues’ position on the issue, but lamented the bill had no Republican input in its drafting.

Without a strategic partnership with Republican backing, Woodall said, “good ideas do die.”

“The racial equities that my friend talks about deserve better than to be part of a partisan package that goes nowhere,” Woodall said. “The generational disparities that my friend from Massachusetts talks about, deserve better than to be part of a package that has been cobbled together for the floor rather than built together for the president’s desk.”

Arizona Congresswoman Debbie Lesko, a Republican, said she thought it was crazy Democrats were focused on the MORE Act, instead of focusing efforts on providing additional Covid-19 relief. Incorrectly saying the bill would legalize marijuana nationwide, Lesko then criticized efforts to remove flavored tobacco products from national markets — but not limiting flavors of cannabis edibles.

However, Congressman Earl Blumenauer — an Oregon Democrat who co-chairs the Congressional Cannabis Caucus — noted it was with “no small amount of irony” that Lesko’s own home state voted to legalize marijuana. 

A more than $17 billion industry employing 250,000, he said, the legislation was an opportunity to “strike a blow against the failed war on drugs,” that had destroyed hundreds of thousands of young Black lives.

“Listening to my colleague from Arizona, sort of made my head hurt,” Blumenauer said. “This legislation does not legalize cannabis across the country. What it does is it stops the federal government from interfering with what states have decided to do.”

The House debated a myriad of bills Thursday, including legislation expanding the effort to offer war crimes rewards — authorizing the Secretary of State to gift monetary prizes for the arrest of genocidal leaders and other wanted individuals.

Another bill amending the Small Business Act to establish a community lending program also was debated. Two Congressional proclamations — one expressing disapproval of Russian officials meddling in U.S. interests and another condemning Russian imprisonment of political opponents — were debated, along with a bill expressing concern over the abduction of Austin Tice, a journalist.

Representative Al Green, who sponsored the bill concerning Tice — abducted at the Syrian border nearly a decade ago — said his mission of mercy to free Tice has spanned nearly eight years.

“He believed in helping other people, this is why he went to Syria,” Green said. “He went to those places where few of us would dare to go and he went because he wanted the world to know what’s happening in these distant places.”

One bill, restricting private ownership of big cats — in part, a Congressional response to criminal activity displayed in the Netflix series, “Tiger King” — passed the House by a 272-114 vote.

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