The House passed legislation on Friday to decriminalize marijuana at the federal level.
The Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act passed 220-204 in a vote largely along party lines and is only the latest in a series of efforts to decriminalize the substance after a version of the measure cleared the chamber in December 2020 but stalled in the then Republican-controlled Senate.
Senate Majority leader Chuck Schumer of New York has said that marijuana legislation is a top priority this spring, but the bill still faces tough odds in the upper chamber, where 10 Republican votes, along with all 50 Democrats, would be necessary to clear a filibuster.
The MORE Act would remove cannabis from the list of federally controlled substances, establish a process to expunge prior cannabis-related convictions and impose a tax on federal marijuana sales. Proponents frame the effort as a reflection of the direction in which states are already heading and as a necessary criminal justice reform after decades of disproportionate punishment of racial minorities and low-income communities through policies referred to as the war on drugs.
Democratic Rep. Jerrold Nadler of New York, who sponsored the bill, argued that the legislation is a key step toward correcting “injustices of the last 50 years.”
“The MORE Act is long-overdue legislation that would reverse decades of failed federal policies based on the criminalization of marijuana,” Nadler said. “It would also take steps to address the heavy toll these policies have taken across the country – particularly among communities of color. For far too long we have treated marijuana as a criminal justice problem instead of as a matter of personal choice and public health. Whatever one’s views are on the use of marijuana for recreational or medicinal use, the policy of arrest, prosecution and incarceration at the federal level has proven both unwise and unjust.”
But Republicans criticized the timing of the legislation, insinuating that Democratic priorities are askew amid crises overseas and at home.
“Record crime, record inflation, record gas prices, record number of illegal immigrants crossing our southern border and what are Democrats doing today? Legalizing drugs,” Republican Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio said.
Others argued that the legislation is incomplete. Republican Rep. Cliff Bentz of Oregon cited the situation in his home state, where marijuana has been legalized, arguing that its shortcomings shed light on how national legislation should address things like funding for law enforcement ahead of a nationwide decriminalization.
The House on Friday voted in favor of an amendment to provide the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration the resources to conduct a study on driving under the influence of marijuana and another to conduct a federal study to look at the impact of legalizing marijuana on the workplace. But the lawmakers narrowly voted down another amendment that would have established that the use of marijuana should not be among the reasons to deny or rescind a security clearance.
The movement to legalize marijuana has in recent years garnered strong public support. More than two-thirds of Americans support legalizing marijuana, according to a November 2021 Gallup poll, maintaining the record-high level reached in 2020.
At least 18 states already permit the recreational use of marijuana, while 37 states allow the substance’s use for medical purposes, according to the National Conference on State Legislatures.
At present, marijuana is listed as a Schedule I substance under the Controlled Substances Act, meaning that it has “a high potential for abuse, no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States, and a lack of accepted safety for use under medical supervision,” according to the Drug Enforcement Administration. Democratic Rep. Steve Cohen of Tennessee argued on Friday that keeping the substance within the classification among the likes of methamphetamines and heroin is “absurd.”