That U.S. bill to deciminalize cannabis? It’s temporarily up in smoke

A cannabis plant. (From Kelowna Capital News)

House Democrats’ plan to vote on legislation decriminalizing marijuana before the November election has gone up in smoke, as leadership decided to postpone consideration of the measure amid concerns about the political optics.

Some of the more moderate Democrats in the caucus, including ones considered vulnerable for reelection in November, had expressed reservation about voting on the marijuana bill this month when Congress still had not passed another coronavirus relief package.

“Right now, the House is focused relentlessly on securing agreement to stave off a damaging government shutdown and continuing to do its job addressing the COVID-19 pandemic,” House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer said in a statement. “Later this autumn, the House will pass the MORE Act with strong support as yet another crucial step toward making our justice system fair for all Americans.”

The MORE Act is the shorthand name for the bill, titled the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act. The measure, which the Judiciary Committee reported out last November on a 24-10 vote, would remove cannabis from any federal references to controlled substances and provide a process for expunging marijuana-related convictions. Advocates for the legislation say it would help correct years of policy that resulted in mass criminalization and incarceration that disproportionately affected minority populations.

“The MORE Act remains a critical component of House Democrats’ plan for addressing systemic racism and advancing criminal justice reform,” Hoyer said.

Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler, the bill’s lead sponsor, said the vote is now expected during the lame-duck session after the election, which is currently scheduled to run Nov. 16 through Dec. 10 with a weeklong break for Thanksgiving.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a leading progressive voice in the party, said she doesn’t get the argument over delaying the marijuana measure until after a coronavirus relief vote since the House already passed a $3.4 trillion aid package in May.

“I feel like the impulse to delay the expungement of people’s records is a fear-based response to Mitch McConnell and the Republican Party,” the New York Democrat said, referring to the Senate majority leader. “And I personally don’t think that we should be governing that way.”

Democrats should be “unapologetic” about their agenda, Ocasio-Cortez said.

“Why is it that the one racial justice bill is the one that being singled out for postponement?” she said. “I think that’s wrong.”