House Approves Bill to Decriminalize Marijuana Nationwide

On Friday, the House of Representatives voted to approve the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act of 2019, or the MORE Act, with a 228 to 164 vote. Although marijuana has been legalized in multiple states, this is the first time the action has been approved by a national legislative body. This comes after voters in four states recently approved ballot measures to legalize recreational marijuana. 

According to Marijuana Moment’s report, the vote was mostly along party lines, although five Republicans voted to support the bill, including Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), the bill’s only Republican sponsor, and six Democrats voted to oppose it. Opponents argued in the debate on the House floor that it could cause public safety issues and harm to children. Arguments in favor of the bill included that the action would help fix harms done by the War on Drugs. 

The bill decriminalizes marijuana, replaces the word marijuana with the word cannabis in some statutes, creates a trust fund for programs, imposes a 5 percent tax on cannabis products, makes loans available for cannabis businesses, and provides for expungement of cannabis-related convictions. 

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas), said, “across this nation, thousands of men and women have suffered needlessly from the federal criminalization of marijuana, particularly in communities of color and have borne the burden of collateral consequences for those ensnared in criminal legal systems that have damaged our society across generations … This is unacceptable and we must change our laws.” 

Meanwhile, Rep. Debbie Lesko (R-Ariz.), stated “[n]ot only is this a dereliction of duty, the bill is simply bad policy. It does nothing to deter the use of marijuana by children, fails to require a warning label on the health risks posed by marijuana, and disregards science that shows marijuana directly affects parts of the brain responsible for memory and learning.”

Some Republicans argued that the marijuana legalization bill was rushed through in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, a vote on the bill was delayed to prioritize COVID-19 aid earlier this year. The House voted down an amendment, which would allow workplaces to test for marijuana, decreasing the possibility of the legalization causing negative impacts in the workplace. 

The MORE Act has not yet been heard in the Republican-controlled Senate, which is not expected to hear the bill before the end of the current session.