BY: JOHN PARKINSON, ABC News
(WASHINGTON) — House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer announced that the House will consider the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment, and Expungement Act the week of Sept 21, prompting criticism from Republicans.
The measure would decriminalize marijuana use at the federal level, although the bill stands no chance of becoming law facing a Republican firewall in the Senate and a GOP president in the White House.
“I’m pleased to bring the MORE Act to the House Floor next month to decriminalize marijuana at the federal level,” Hoyer, D-Md., said in a statement to ABC News Monday. “This legislation is an important step to correct the disproportionate impact our criminal justice system has had on communities of color.”
Although the measure has collected dust since passing through the Judiciary Committee last November, the timing of the planned floor vote nearly a year later paves the way for Democrats to boast during the campaign season about another measure Republicans have blocked from advancing towards law.
Across the aisle, Republicans have taken the announcement as an opportunity to criticize Democratic priorities in the midst of a pandemic and racial reckoning, when every minute of floor time is limited and considered precious to lawmakers — Democrats and Republicans alike.
“We are dealing with a pandemic and mob violence is terrorizing major cities — so what’s first up on Speaker (Nancy) Pelosi’s agenda after a long House recess? No Joint Left Behind – A bill legalizing pot!” Rep. Ken Calvert, R-Texas, tweeted.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s spokeswoman pointed out the subtle irony in decriminalizing marijuana amid the pandemic due to its association with respiratory illness.
“The House has been out for weeks — the first legislative business the Democrat majority plans to take up is the legalization of marijuana. In the midst of a pandemic associated with a respiratory tract infection, this is what Dem leaders have decided to make their priority,” McCarthy’s communication director Michele Perez Exner tweeted.
Even the president’s reelection campaign piled on.
“House Dems — more worried about pot dealers than providing relief for the American people,” tweeted Erin Perrine, director of press communications for the Trump campaign.
Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., who is a leading sponsor of the bill, pushed back against criticism that the timing is misguided, arguing a vote in the House is the next step towards racial equality and passing the measure in the next session of Congress.
“It’s extremely encouraging to see our House leadership moving forward on this issue. We are facing challenging times in our fight for racial equity and law enforcement reform, and passing the MORE Act is crucial to addressing our country’s history of injustice,” she said. “This is the next step in our goal of ending the harmful prohibition of cannabis in 2021.”
As he gauged support for the bill in an internal memo to Democrats on Friday, House Majority Whip James Clyburn noted the bill would allow state law to determine the status of marijuana legality for each state.
“The bill also requires federal courts to expunge prior marijuana-related convictions and arrests and authorizes the assessment of a 5% sales tax on marijuana and marijuana products to create an Opportunity Trust Fund,” Clyburn, D-S.C. wrote in the memo obtained by ABC News. “This fund would include grant programs administered by the Department of Justice and the Small Business Administration to support individuals who have been adversely affected by the War on Drugs, provide assistance to socially and economically disadvantaged small business owners, and minimize barriers to marijuana licensing and employment.”
While an impasse over the next phase of COVID-19 relief persists, and lawmakers still haven’t come together on police reform, there still is some must-pass legislation on the agenda that’ll require bipartisan cooperation.
Congress has just 14 legislative days scheduled before a potential government shutdown, and only two more days on the calendar after that before the Nov. 3 election.
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