After the House voted along party lines Friday to decriminalize marijuana on the federal level, congressional Republicans questioned Democrats’ priorities, as the bill is unlikely to pass in the Senate.
The Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act, or MORE Act, would remove cannabis from the list of federally controlled substances and result in the cancellation of low-level federal convictions and arrests related to marijuana.
The bill was approved by the House by a vote of 228-164. Just five Republicans voted to pass the bill, while all but six Democrats voted for its approval.
In the Republican-controlled Senate, the bill is likely not to pass.
“Come on man — families are losing their livelihoods, people are hurting,” said Rep. Pete Stauber, a Minnesota Republican. He added that most Democrats are focused in the wrong thing by being concerned with passing a bill that is unlikely to become a law.
“Our priorities should not be legalizing drugs or banning tigers,” he said.
Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnel responded to the historic vote with sarcasm, saying, “The House of Representatives is spending this week on pressing issues like marijuana. You know, serious and important legislation befitting this national crisis.”
Stauber has voted against two coronavirus relief packages, one in May and the other in October, that passed the House despite Republican opposition. Both bills in the Senate, where McConnell wields almost absolute power in determining whether a bill comes to a vote.
In response to Republican lawmakers’ latest round of complaints that the House is unwilling to pass bills that apparently are not pre-approved by Senate Majority Leader McConnell, Democrats dismissed the idea that they are not serious and asserted they are working hard to pass a coronavirus relief bill that will help millions of struggling Americans.
Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, a Texas Democrat, also defended the significance of the MORE Act, saying it would save lives.
“The imbalance against people of color has been a tragedy,” she said.
According to the ACLU, Black Americans are 3.37 times more likely to to be arrested for marijuana than whites, despite similar usage rates. In some states, the disparity rises to as high as 10 times more likely.
Although Friday’s House vote was mostly symbolic, Congress could vote on a similar bill next year after the new session begins.
“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,” Lee said on the House floor. “This is unacceptable and we must change our laws. It is time for Congress to catch up with the reforms that states are enacting.”