The Democrat-controlled U.S. House of Representatives voted on Friday to legalize marijuana at the federal level, a first for either body of Congress to vote in support of the matter.
Dubbed the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment, and Expungement (MORE) Act, the legislation aims to expunge records for people with prior federal marijuana convictions. The bill would also impose a tax on marijuana products, which are said to fund programs that support “individuals and businesses in communities impacted by the war on drugs.”
With a 228-164 vote in the House, the legislation, which is sponsored by Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY), now advances to the Senate.
In a statement, Nadler said that legalization would address the “mistake” of marijuana’s criminalization and its “racially disparate enforcement.”
“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,” Nadler said.
While the bill would legalize marijuana at a federal level, it gives states the opportunity to pass their own regulations on the sale of marijuana.
Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), one of only a few Republicans who voted for the legislation and the only Republican cosponsor of the legislation, said the bill was essential because current federal prohibitions on marijuana “constrains” states.
“If we were measuring the success in the ‘war on drugs,’ it would be hard to conclude anything other than the fact that drugs have won,” Gaetz said.
Before the passage, the minority in the House attempted to add language to the legislation that stated private sector employers retain the right to test employees for marijuana use.
The motion to recommit, which Rep. Debbie Lesko (R-AZ) implemented, failed to pass with a vote of 218 to 174. One Republican, Gaetz, and 217 Democrats voted against the motion.
In a statement to reporters, House Minority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) said Democrats were “focused on cats and cannabis instead of COVID.”