Election poison? House Democrats debate when to vote on marijuana decriminalization bill

House Democrats are mulling whether to take up a bill before the November election that would decriminalize marijuana at the federal level.

a close up of a green plant

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The Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment, and Expungement Act would remove cannabis from the Controlled Substance Act, which would effectively decriminalize it at the federal level.

The measure has more than 100 Democratic co-sponsors in the House as well as a handful of GOP supporters.

But some Democrats want leadership to postpone a pre-election vote, particularly vulnerable Democrats running for reelection in swing districts who worry constituents would frown on a vote to legalize marijuana while Congress has yet to address a new round of coronavirus aid.

Several Democrats on Wednesday argued that Congress should instead focus on finding a deal on coronavirus spending, which is considered the most pressing issue in most districts.

Congress must also pass a short-term spending bill, or continuing resolution, to keep the government operating beyond a Sept. 30 deadline.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, a Maryland Democrat, told reporters he’s not set on scheduling the bill in September, which may be the last time lawmakers gather before leaving to campaign.

“I’m a supporter of the MORE Act, but we’ve got to get this CR and COVID-19 done because they are absolutely critical to the welfare of our country,” Hoyer said. “There are a lot of bills that are possible which are important bills, good bills. But we’re focused on COVID-19 and the CR because it keeps government open and gives assistance to millions of people who absolutely need it.”

Democratic rank-and-file are divided on the timing of the bill.

“Let’s focus on where our priority is now, and that’s the coronavirus,” Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger, a Maryland Democrat, told the Washington Examiner. “That’s the most important issue for health, safety, and welfare.”

Rep. Ann Kuster, a New Hampshire Democrat, said she is concentrating on pushing for a deal with Republicans on a new round of federal coronavirus aid, not whether to legalize marijuana, which has already been decriminalized in her state.

“We’ve got a lot on our plate,” Kuster told the Washington Examiner. “I think people are really focused on the pain in our districts, and what we really need to be focused on is getting a deal.”

Talks between Democrats and Republicans have all but stalled on coronavirus aid, however.

No legislation is scheduled, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi hasn’t announced any new talks with White House negotiators.

The lawmakers eager to pass the decriminalization measure say the House should take up the bill before the election.

“The sooner we get that out of the way, the better off we’ll be,” Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, a Missouri Democrat, told the Washington Examiner.

Cleaver said marijuana is now legal in many states and must be decriminalized at the federal level to spare people from ending up in jail.

The bill would also provide an eventual pathway for banks to do business with marijuana dispensaries, which Cleaver said would make it safer to purchase the drug by eliminating the need to carry around large amounts of cash.

“The nation has changed,” Cleaver said. “We’ve got to stop this.”

The measure has the backing of a small group of Republicans in the House. Sen. Kamala Harris, a California Democrat and the party’s nominee for vice president, sponsored a companion measure in the Senate, but Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, is not likely to bring it up.

Both chambers are likely to adjourn by early October and won’t be back until a post-election “lame duck” session.

“I suppose we are just running out of time,” House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chair Carolyn Maloney, a New York Democrat, said when asked about the decriminalization measure, which she co-sponsored. “We do need to pass it.”

Rep. Gerry Connolly, a Virginia Democrat and co-sponsor of the decriminalization measure, said it doesn’t matter to him whether the House votes on the bill before or after the election.

Connolly said the decision by the federal government to classify marijuana as a controlled substance was “an enormous miscarriage of justice,” that must be corrected.

Marijuana is fully legal in nearly a dozen states and decriminalized in several more, though it remains strictly prohibited by the federal government.

“We’ve been waiting for half a century to address this,” Connolly said. “And I think in a lot of districts, it’s going to be actually a plus for members.”

Republicans are ready to attack Democrats if they take up the measure in the coming weeks.

“The Democrats are out of touch with the needs of the American people, and it’s easy to see their priorities,” Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, a California Republican, told the Washington Examiner. “Their giant liberal wishlist bill mentioned ‘cannabis’ more than ‘jobs,’ and when Republicans have attempted to get much-needed assistance to families and small businesses through the Paycheck Protection Program, Democrats have blocked those efforts — only to now focus on a marijuana bill. This is a complete dereliction of duty and a disservice to the American people.”

Tags: News, Congress

Original Author: Susan Ferrechio

Original Location: Election poison? House Democrats debate when to vote on marijuana decriminalization bill

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