Historic vote to decriminalize marijuana in the House postponed as moderates pump the brakes

Michael Fischer / Pixels
The U.S. House of Representatives’ long-awaiting vote to decriminalize marijuana on the federal level has been postponed until after Election Day, drawing criticism from pot advocates. 

The House was scheduled to vote next week on the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, which would remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act, expunge some criminal records, and create funding for people and communities impacted by the War on Drugs. 

But moderate Democrats expressed concerns about voting on the measure before wrapping up coronavirus legislation, according to The Hill.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Maryland, who removed the MORE Act from the schedule, said Democratic leaders remain “committed” to voting on the legislation before the end of the year. 

“Right now, the House is focused relentlessly on securing agreement to stave off a damaging government shutdown and continuing to do its job addressing the COVID-19 pandemic," Hoyer told The Hill. "Later this autumn, the House will pass the MORE Act with strong support as yet another crucial step toward making our justice system fair for all Americans." 

Some progressive Democrats expressed frustration with the delay. 

“I feel like the impulse to delay the expungement of people's records is a fear-based response to [Senate Majority Leader] Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, and the Republican Party,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-New York, said. “And I personally don't think that we should be governing that way. I don't think that when Democrats have power, like a House majority, that we should be drafting our agenda based out of fear of Republicans.” 

Justin Strekal, political director of NORML, said in a statement that the "delay does not change the fact that the overwhelming majority of voters support ending the federal prohibition of cannabis, including majorities of Democrats, Independents, and Republicans.” 

“This delay does not change the fact that 33 states and the District of Columbia regulate the production and distribution of medical cannabis in a manner that is inconsistent with federal policy, and that one-out-of-four Americans now reside in jurisdictions where adult-use is legal under state law,” Strekal said. 

The MORE Act would require federal courts to expunge prior marijuana convictions, create a cannabis tax to fund communities hardest hit by the War on Dugs, and help minority-owned small business join the cannabis industry. 

Even if the bill passes the House, it faces an uphill battle in the Republican-controlled Senate. Nevertheless, studies show that more than half of Americans support marijuana legalization. 

While Democratic nominee Joe Biden has come short of calling for cannabis to be legalized, his running mate, Kamala Harris, is the lead sponsor of the MORE Act in the Senate. President Donald Trump reportedly said that he believes legal weed initiatives will energize Democratic voters.

This article first appeared in the Detroit Metro Times, an affiliated publication.

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