Marijuana legalization bill passes U.S. House on way to Senate vote

Dave Goldiner
New York Daily News (TNS)

The House Friday voted 220-204 along mostly party lines to pass a Democratic bill legalizing marijuana throughout the nation, but its future remains hazy given that most Republicans opposed it.

The bill would make marijuana legal on the federal level and help roll back the so-called war on drugs that has disproportionately targeted people of color.

“Whatever one’s views are on the use of marijuana for recreational or medicinal use, the policy of arrests, prosecution, and incarceration at the federal level has proven both unwise and unjust,” Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., a key sponsor of the bill, said Friday.

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Three Republican lawmakers, Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Calif., Rep. Brian Mast, R-Fla., and Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., voted for the bill, while Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, and Rep. Chris Pappas, D-N.H., opposed it.

“We have a mass incarceration problem in America,” Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., said. “It has ruined lives, ruined families, ruined communities.”

The measure, known as the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, would snuff out all criminal penalties linked to weed and establish a process to expunge old convictions from records. It would also impose a federal tax on the legal sales of marijuana.

The bill faces a cloudy future due to Republican opposition in the evenly divided Senate, in which 60 votes are needed to override a potential filibuster.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said the “time has come for comprehensive” marijuana reform. He plans to bring the bill up for an up-or-down vote, which may pressure some lawmakers to take a stand.

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“We will need Republicans to pass a legalization bill in the Senate, and we will be working hard to try and get them,” Schumer said.

The House narrowly defeated an amendment that would’ve barred marijuana use as a reason to deny a federal security clearance, with 12 Democrats breaking ranks to oppose it.

There is little doubt that legalization is widely popular with voters, with large majorities in both parties supporting it in recent polls.

At least 18 states and the District of Columbia allow recreational use of marijuana. Some 37 states allow the drug for medical use.

“Americans have made their support for cannabis legalization abundantly clear. Now it is time for Congress to take action and finally put an end to the failed policy of prohibition,” said Toi Hutchinson, president and CEO of the Marijuana Policy Project, an advocacy group.