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Democratic Congressman Criticizes Planned Marijuana Legalization Vote, Joining GOP Members

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A Democratic congressman on Tuesday joined his GOP colleagues in criticizing a planned House vote on a bill to federally legalize marijuana.

Rep. Conor Lamb (D-PA) weighed in on the chamber’s pending action this week on the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, writing that lawmakers “should be working every minute to get a deal done [on coronavirus relief] & get money to people who need it.”

“Instead, the House is voting on a piecemeal marijuana bill that won’t become law?” he said. “Decriminalizing marijuana is an important issue that should be taken seriously & done the right way. This isn’t the right way.”

“Right now, an American is dying every minute, people are going broke, & nursing homes are still too vulnerable,” he added. “We should be focused on nothing else.”

While more than two dozen Republican legislators have recently condemned House leadership for advancing cannabis reform before passing another COVID-19 bill, no other Democratic member has publicly questioned the decision so far.

But it’s not entirely surprising that this criticism is coming from Lamb. While he’s previously cosponsored modest reform legislation to promote research into medical cannabis for veterans and allow banks to service state-legal marijuana businesses, he’s voted against bipartisan measures to protect state cannabis programs from federal intervention two years in a row.

The congressman did say during his campaign in 2018 that he supports medical cannabis legalization, however.

Watch Lamb discuss medical cannabis, around 32:37 into the video below:

Months after Lamb’s election victory, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) commented on the popularity of cannabis reform in his district, noting that the issue had more support among local voters there than both the president and tax reform did, according to a poll.

“In that district—is that stunning?” she said.

But Lamb evidently is not moved by the will of his constituents or the supermajority of Democratic voters in general. He’s instead decided to publicly align himself with those across the aisle when it comes to voting on the MORE Act. Marijuana Moment reached out to the congressman’s office for clarification about his concerns with the bill, but representatives did not immediately respond.

There were certain centrist Democrats who also took issue with advancing the bill when the House first announced plans to hold a vote in the chamber in September. There were concerns about the optics of approving marijuana reform before passing another COVID-19 relief bill, and they convinced leadership to postpone the vote. That said, several of those same lawmakers ended up losing their seats on the same Election Day as voters in conservative states approved marijuana legalization ballot measures, calling into question their strategic thinking on the politics of cannabis.

The House Rules Committee is now set to take up the MORE Act on Wednesday to prepare it for floor action. The panel will decide which submitted amendments can be made in order for floor action, which could then come as soon as Thursday. The most notable proposed change in an amendment filed by leadership concerns the tax structure of the bill.

Where Lamb ultimately falls when the bill comes up for a floor vote is uncertain. But the decision will come in the backdrop of a concerted push from top Democratic officials in his state to pass legalization.

Gov. Tom Wolf (D) and Lt. Gov. John Fetterman (D) have repeatedly called on lawmakers to enact the policy change, arguing that the reform could generate tax revenue to support the state’s economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic and that ending criminalization is necessary for social justice.

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Photo courtesy of Chris Wallis // Side Pocket Images.

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Kyle Jaeger is Marijuana Moment's Sacramento-based senior editor. His work has also appeared in High Times, VICE and attn.

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