Politics

U.S. House Votes To Decriminalize Cannabis In Historic First

The MORE Act will next come before the Senate, where it is likely to face fierce Republican opposition.

Pre-rolled joints are displayed during a 420 Day celebration on April 20, 2018 in San Francisco, California. In the first year that marijuana is legal for recreational use in California, thousands of marijuana enthusiasts gathered in Golden Gate Park to celebrate 420 day. | Getty Images
Pre-rolled joints are displayed during a 420 Day celebration on April 20, 2018 in San Francisco, California. In the first year that marijuana is legal for recreational use in California, thousands of marijuana enthusiasts gathered in Golden Gate Park to celebrate 420 day. | Getty Images

The U.S. House of Representatives on Friday voted to decriminalize cannabis, marking the first time in U.S. history that Congress has voted on decriminalization and as well as a sharp referendum on the war on drugs. The vote comes after more U.S. states, including ones that voted for President Donald Trump, legalized the drug for recreational use during the 2020 election.

The House voted 228-164 to pass the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act, or MORE Act, which would decriminalize cannabis, paving the way for states to reschedule or legalize the drug on their own.

The MORE Act also outlines a process by which those with previous nonviolent federal cannabis convictions could have their case reviewed and potentially expunged. The legislation would also pave the way for more research, ease restrictions on cannabis businesses, and ensure veterans can access medical cannabis, among other measures. 

“Cannabis reform is a critical and urgent matter of racial justice,” Reps. Barbara Lee (D-CA) & Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), co-sponsors of the bill, wrote in a CNN op-ed. “We must restore the lives of those hurt by these policies of the past.”

The legislation will next come before the Republican-led Senate, where it is unlikely to pass if Majority Leader Mitch McConnell retains control. (Two Georgia runoffs in January will determine the future of the Senate.) McConnell released a statement on Thursday bashing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for bringing the act to a vote, saying the House decided to “puff, puff, pass” on COVID-19 relief. (McConnell has refused to signal support of a bipartisan COVID-19 relief package that significantly reduced Democrats’ initial proposal by more than half.) 

About 68% of American adults support the legalization of cannabis, according to a Gallup poll released in November. On Election Day 2020, voters in Arizona, Montana, Mississippi, New Jersey, and South Dakota all approved measures to legalize some form of weed.

Pro-cannabis groups praised the vote on Friday.

Ian McKenna contributed to this report.