House Votes to Decriminalize Marijuana, but Measure Unlikely to Make It Far in Republican Senate

The House of Representatives held a historic vote Friday to decriminalize marijuana at the federal level.

The Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act was passed in a 228-to-164 vote that marked the first time either chamber of Congress has voted on federal decriminalization of cannabis. The drug remains illegal under federal law and shares the same drug classification (Schedule 1) as heroin, ecstasy and LSD.

"I'm so proud that the MORE Act passed the House by a bipartisan vote of 228 to 164," Representative Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) wrote on Twitter. "I introduced this bill to provide restorative justice, modernize America's cannabis laws, and deliver meaningful investments to America's communities & small businesses. Now, let's make it law."

The legislation would also expunge prior marijuana convictions; impose a federal tax on sales of the drug; provide funding for small marijuana businesses; and allocate revenue to people most affected by prior drug enforcement laws.

The House's passage of the MORE Act comes after a momentous Election Day for the pro-cannabis movement. Voters in five states—Arizona, Mississippi, Montana, New Jersey and South Dakota—approved of ballot measures legalizing medical and recreational marijuana.

With these recent victories, marijuana is now legal for adults in 15 states and Washington, D.C., a significant increase from 2012, when Colorado and Washington were the first states to do so. Medical marijuana is legal in 35 states.

Public support for marijuana is at an all-time high. A Gallup Poll released last month found that 68 percent of Americans are in favor of legalizing marijuana, which is double the approval rate in 2003.

But despite the marijuana movement's momentum, the MORE Act is unlikely to make it very far in the Republican-controlled Senate. GOP leaders, including Representative Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), mocked Democrats this week for voting on the bill as the government remains deadlocked on delivering a new economic relief package.

"This week, your House Democrat majority is tackling the tough issues by holding a vote on legalizing pot and banning tiger ownership," McCarthy tweeted. "Nothing for small businesses. Nothing for re-opening schools. Nothing on battling the pandemic. Just cannabis and cats."

Speaking on the Senate floor, McConnell said, "The House of Representatives is spending this week on pressing issues like marijuana. You know, serious and important legislation befitting this national crisis,"

Newsweek contacted McConnell's office for comment on the legislation's future in the Senate but did not hear back in time for publication.

marijuana advocates outside US capitol 2019
On the U.S. Capitol’s East Lawn, activists from DC Marijuana Justice wave flags during an October 8, 2019, rally demanding that Congress pass cannabis reform. On Friday, the House of Representatives voted to decriminalize marijuana at the federal level. Olivier Douliery/AFP/Getty Images