Drugs

Federal Cannabis Legalization Heads to the Senate … Where It Died Last Year

As takes of federal cannabis legalization continue, Texas is still trying to ban smokable hemp.
As takes of federal cannabis legalization continue, Texas is still trying to ban smokable hemp. Malen Blackmon
The Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act passed a vote in the U.S. House of Representatives last week, but the future of the federal cannabis legalization bill is still uncertain (at least it is to people optimistic about weed reform in the U.S.)

The legislation, which would remove cannabis from the federal controlled substances list and expunge people’s prior cannabis-related charges, made it through the House on Friday with a 220-204 vote.

Most Democratic House leaders voted for the bill, while most House Republicans voted against it. Republican representatives including Florida's Matt Gaetz, Florida's Brian Mast and California's Tom McClintock were outliers, as were Democrats Henry Cuellar of Texas and New Hampshire's Chris Pappas.

But the bill still needs 60 votes to clear the Senate, where another legalization bill died last year. The Senate was controlled by Republicans at the time.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi praised the MORE Act as lawmakers debated it on the floor early last week.

“For far too long, failed federal drug policies have torn apart families and devastated communities of color,” Pelosi said at the time. “Tragically, the communities most harmed by criminalization are benefiting the least from legal cannabis marketplaces, as prior cannabis convictions are barring too many of them from entering the industry.”

When it made it to the floor for a vote on Friday, critics said Congress should instead be focused on things like rising crime and inflation.

“Record crime, record inflation, record gas prices, record number of illegal immigrants crossing our southern border, and what are Democrats doing today? Legalizing drugs,” Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio said. “Legalizing drugs and using American tax dollars to kick start and prop up the marijuana industry. Wow.”

Supporters of the MORE Act, such as the bill’s sponsor Rep. Jerrold Nadler, say legalization is long overdue.

“For far too long, we have treated marijuana as a criminal justice problem instead of as a matter of personal choice and public health,” Nadler said. “If states are the laboratories of democracy, it is long past time for the federal government to recognize that legalization has been a resounding success and the conflict with federal law has become untenable.”

“When I’m governor, we will legalize marijuana." – Beto O'Rourke

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Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is working on his own federal cannabis legalization bill, but there’s no certainty he will get the required votes either.

Schumer’s bill, the Cannabis Administration & Opportunity Act, would federally legalize marijuana, but it would also let states decide whether or not to adopt legalization themselves. That’s bad news for Texans, unless you believe Beto O’Rourke when he says the state would legalize weed if he’s elected governor (and that he has a chance of unseating Gov. Greg Abbott).

“When I’m governor, we will legalize marijuana,” O'Rourke, the Democratic nominee for Texas governor, said in a Twitter post. “We will stop locking up Texans for a substance that's legal in much of the rest of the country while generating nearly $1 billion a year in new revenue and taxpayer savings. It’s the right thing to do.”

On the campaign trail to the presidency, President Joe Biden also signaled support for cannabis reform, including decriminalization. But his administration has not yet delivered. Until it does, or until there’s movement on the state level, people will have to rely on local efforts if they want to see cannabis reform.

A group called Decriminalize Denton is collecting signatures to get cannabis decriminalization on the ballot in the city’s November municipal elections. The group has a little over two more weeks to get the required 1,745 signatures. They’re aiming for 3,000. If it makes it on the ballot, cannabis decriminalization in Denton will be left up to the voters.
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Jacob Vaughn, a former Brookhaven College journalism student, has written for the Observer since 2018, first as clubs editor. More recently, he's been in the news section as a staff writer covering City Hall, the Dallas Police Department and whatever else editors throw his way.
Contact: Jacob Vaughn

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