A third Republican congressman said he will be voting in favor of a marijuana legalization bill that the House is set to take up later this month.
Rep. Don Young (R-AK), cochair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, said in an interview with Alaska Public Media last week that he’s supportive of the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, which would federally legalize marijuana and promote social equity.
“It’s a big vote. And we’re going to pass that, I’m confident. What’ll happen with it afterward, I don’t know,” he said. “I’m one to believe that when people vote on something—as they did in the state of Alaska—we ought to recognize people’s will and follow through with it.”
“I’ve had the privilege of visiting some of my marijuana retailers and producers and see the professionalism which they use,” Young said. “Now, whether it’s good or bad, I’m not going to argue that part. I’ve never used it myself right up front—and I didn’t inhale either. But no, I just I think it’s up to the individual states to make that decision.”
The congressman said the upcoming vote is important because “the federal government is trying to enforce some of their federal laws against marijuana, and I’m saying no.”
Listen to Young discuss the MORE Act below, starting around 51:48:
“As the dean of the House, Don Young’s support for the MORE Act is a huge deal,” Justin Strekal, political director of NORML, told Marijuana Moment, referring to the fact that the congressman is the longest-serving current member of the body. “It is our sincere hope that other Republicans will follow his lead to ensure that states that choose to regulate a cannabis marketplace are protected under federal law.”
When the Talk of Alaska reporter described the bill, Young seemed to somewhat misstate its primary objective, stating that it would decriminalize cannabis when it would actually deschedule it entirely.
In any case, with Young, there are now three GOP members who have gone on the record voicing their support for the reform since House leadership announced it would be holding a floor vote.
Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), the sole GOP cosponsor on the bill, said earlier this month that he would be voting “yes” on the MORE Act, though he expressed criticism about a provision that would impose a federal excise tax on marijuana sales to be reinvested in communities most impacted by the drug war, calling them “reparations.”
“I believe in cannabis reform in this country. The federal government has lied to the American people for a generation about cannabis,” the congressman said. “What are we going to do about it? The MORE Act.”
Rep. Tom McClintock (R-CA) also said “I intend to vote yes on the bill” in a recent interview with Politico. “With respect to timing, I do find it ironic that the only small businesses the Democrats seem to be worried about is cannabis shops, but I would support this bill whenever it is brought to a vote,” he said.
McClintock, along with Gaetz, voted for the MORE Act when it was marked up by the Judiciary Committee last year.
Last month, 31 Republicans voted for a floor amendment to prevent the Department of Justice from interfering with state marijuana laws. It’s not yet clear how many of those members will vote for the MORE Act, with its federal tax on cannabis and earmarks of funds to aid people harmed by the war on drugs.
If the House approves the bill, there will still be an open question about whether the Republican-controlled Senate would follow suit. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is a strong advocate for hemp, but he’s maintained steadfast opposition to broader marijuana reform. That said, he did hold closed-door meetings with industry representatives last year.
It’s possible the House action could spur the Senate to take up the STATES Act, however. That bipartisan bill is sponsored by Sens. Cory Gardner (R-CO) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA).
Gardner could use that legislative win as he trails behind former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) in his reelection race. And to Gaetz’s point, President Trump has expressed support for the proposal.
The vote on the MORE Act will not be the first time the House has taken up cannabis reform on the floor this Congress.
The chamber approved a coronavirus relief package in May that includes provisions to protect banks that service state-legal marijuana businesses from being penalized by federal regulators. It also approved the standalone Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act last year.
On Wednesday, a House committee approved a bill designed to promote cannabis research, in part by allowing scientists to access marijuana from state-legal dispensaries.
Advocates were disappointed after lawmakers declined to include marijuana legalization as part of a recent policing reform bill the House passed. Several legislators made the case that it was an appropriate vehicle for the policy change, as ending cannabis criminalization would minimize police interactions.
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.