On Friday, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill to decriminalize marijuana at the federal level. This was the first time that either legislative chamber has passed a measure decriminalizing the plant-based drug. Congressman Bradley Byrne, R-Alabama, said that this was a “waste of time.”
“Today — in the middle of a pandemic — Nancy Pelosi and House Democrats have scheduled a vote on a bill to legalize marijuana,” Byrne said. “This is reckless, irresponsible and a waste of time. Stop pandering to the radical Left and let’s focus on real solutions.”
The measure passed the House 228 to 164. Only five House Republicans voted in favor of the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act, which aims to “address the devastating injustices caused by the War on Drugs.” Six Democrats voted against the bill.
“For far too long, we have treated marijuana as a criminal justice problem instead of as a matter of personal choice and public health,” said House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-New York. “Whatever one’s views are on the use of marijuana for recreational or medicinal use, the policy of arrests, prosecution, and incarceration at the Federal level has proven unwise and unjust.”
“Millions of Americans’ lives have been upended as a result of convictions for possessing small amounts of marijuana, and the racial disparities in conviction rates for those offenses are as shocking as they are unjust,” said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Maryland.
Marijuana use is criminalized under federal law. Some 36 states have legalized medical cannabis and 15 states have legalized recreational cannabis for adult use. Normally, federal law is supreme over state laws, but Presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump have both moved to allow state governments to set their own marijuana policies. While marijuana remains criminalized at the federal level, this creates a legal conundrum.
The MORE Act expunges prior marijuana convictions and requires new sentencing hearings for those imprisoned with marijuana convictions. The law also takes marijuana off the Controlled Substances Act and eliminates criminal penalties connected to manufacturing, distributing or possessing marijuana.
U.S. Sen. Doug Jones, D-Alabama, over the summer voiced support for decriminalizing marijuana. At this time it seems unlikely though that Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, will move to bring this bill to the floor of the Senate for a vote with less than four weeks left in the 116th Congress.
Byrne represents Alabama’s 1st Congressional District. Byrne will be succeeded by Mobile County Commissioner Jerry Carl in the 117th Congress beginning Jan. 3.