Congressional vote to legalize marijuana is expected later this week

Published on November 30, 2020 · Last updated December 3, 2020
The expected House vote on the MORE Act would be the first major action on cannabis since the adoption of the Controlled Substance Act in 1970. (AdobeStock)

Update, Dec. 3, 2020: The MORE Act passed out of the House Rules Committee on Wednesday, was debated on the House floor on Thursday, and is expected to go up for a full House vote on Friday, Dec. 4.

Democratic House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Maryland) announced over the Thanksgiving weekend that the MORE Act, which would end the federal prohibition of cannabis, has been scheduled for a full floor vote this coming week.

A House vote to end federal prohibition could happen as early as Wednesday. But it’s expected to stall in the Senate.

The vote could happen as early as Wednesday evening.

Advocates expect the bill to pass; House leaders typically don’t bring a measure to the floor unless they know they have the votes. Passage of the MORE Act would mark the first time that the House or the Senate has ever voted as a full chamber on legislation to end the federal cannabis prohibition since it went into effect following the passage of the Controlled Substances Act of 1970.

The MORE Act Calls for Sweeping Changes in Federal Cannabis Law

After the House vote, an uphill climb in the Senate

Success in the House is only half the battle, however. The US Senate remains in the hands of Republicans and their leader, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky). Many Republicans support legalization, but McConnell is a staunch prohibitionist who has declared that marijuana will not be legalized on his watch.

Sen. Mitch McConnell has declared that marijuana will not be legalized on his watch.

“This floor vote represents the first Congressional roll call ever on the question of ending federal marijuana criminalization,” said NORML Political Director Justin Strekal. “By advancing the MORE Act, the House of Representatives sends an unmistakable signal that America is ready to close the book marijuana prohibition and end the senseless oppression and fear that this failed policy wreaks on otherwise law-abiding citizens.”

Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Oregon), the longtime legalization advocate and leader of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, heralded the floor vote as a major step forward.

“I’ve been working on this issue longer than any politician in America and can confidently say that the MORE Act is the most comprehensive federal cannabis reform legislation in U.S. history,” Blumenauer said in a statement. 

Record number of Americans support marijuana legalization, poll finds

Two-thirds of Americans want it legalized

The expected vote, Blumenauer added, “will come after people in five very different states reaffirmed the strong bipartisan support to reform the failed cannabis prohibition. National support for federal cannabis legalization is at an all-time high and almost 99% of Americans will soon live in states with some form of legal cannabis. Congress must capitalize on this momentum and do our part to end the failed policy of prohibition that has resulted in a long and shameful period of selective enforcement against communities of color.” 

In addition to decriminalizing marijuana at the federal level, the MORE Act would expunge federal marijuana convictions and reinvest in communities most adversely impacted by the war on drugs.

Election 2020: Cannabis legalization results and live coverage

Earlier vote postponed due to election concerns

The MORE Act vote comes more than two months after the bill was originally scheduled to reach the floor.

Democrats delayed an earlier vote, fearing the optics. But cannabis legalization proved more popular than most candidates—regardless of party.

Back in September, moderate Democrats facing re-election challenges pressured House leadership to delay the vote until after the Nov. 3 election. Those party members assumed the optics of “voting for marijuana” would hurt them with moderate and undecided voters.

In fact, cannabis legalization proved to be more popular than most candidates regardless of party. Legalization measures passed with whopping margins in Arizona, Mississippi, Montana, New Jersey, and South Dakota.

The Democratic majority in the House, meanwhile, actually diminished in the Nov. 3 election. Democrats lost a dozen House seats even as Joe Biden won the presidency by nearly seven million votes.

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Bruce Barcott
Bruce Barcott
Leafly Senior Editor Bruce Barcott oversees news, investigations, and feature projects. He is a Guggenheim Fellow and author of Weed the People: The Future of Legal Marijuana in America.
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