The House on Friday passed a bill decriminalizing marijuana at the federal level, a sweeping measure that aims to reduce racial inequities in drug arrests. The measure, which would remove marijuana from the list of federally controlled substances and expunge federal convictions for non-violent marijuana offenses, now goes to the Senate, where it is unlikely to pass.
The House passed the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act by a vote of 228 to 164, with six Democrats voting against it and five Republicans voting for it. Congressman Matt Gaetz of Florida was the only Republican to co-sponsor the bill, which had over 100 Democratic sponsors.
"This long overdue legislation would reverse the failed policy of criminalizing marijuana on the federal level and would take steps to address the heavy toll this policy has taken across the country, particularly on communities of color," House Judiciary Committee Chair Jerrold Nadler, who introduced the bill, said in a statement after the MORE Act was passed.
According to a report from the American Civil Liberties Union passed this year, Black Americans are 3.6 times more likely than White Americans to be arrested for marijuana, despite similar usage rates. However, ACLU data also found that racial disparities remain in arrests in some states which have legalized or decriminalized marijuana.
In a speech on the House floor ahead of the vote, Democratic Congressman Hakeem Jeffries said that he hoped this measure would help decrease America's large incarcerated population.
"The United States incarcerates more people than any other country in the world. We have ruined lives, families and communities. It's a stain on our democracy," Jeffries said. "Marijuana use is either socially acceptable behavior or it's criminal conduct. But it can't be socially accepted behavior in some neighborhoods and criminal conduct in other neighborhoods when the dividing line is race."
However, while Democrats see decriminalization as an important criminal justice issue, most Senate Republicans seem unwilling to consider it. In a speech on the Senate floor on Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell questioned why House Democrats were voting on a bill on decriminalizing marijuana rather than focusing on coronavirus relief.
"The House of Representatives is spending this week on pressing issues like marijuana. Marijuana. You know, serious and important legislation, benefiting the national crisis," McConnell said sarcastically.
But Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer urged McConnell to bring the legislation to a vote in the Senate, saying in a statement Friday that "the House has taken a historic step towards finally ending the federal prohibition on marijuana."
"Today's bipartisan vote shows just how far that movement has come. I am encourage by the action the House has taken and I encourage my colleagues in the Senate to support these efforts as well," Schumer said.