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House punts marijuana vote

By SARAH FERRIS and NATALIE FERTIG 09/17/2020 01:50 PM EDT Updated: 09/17/2020 03:40 PM EDT

Marijuana legalization will not get a floor vote in the House until after Election Day, a House Democratic member and several Democratic aides said Thursday.

The MORE Act would remove federal penalties for marijuana, erase some criminal records and create grant programs for people affected by the War on Drugs. House leaders had said earlier this month the bill would come to a vote the week of Sept. 21. Over the last few days, however, they raised pushing it to later in the year to concentrate on getting a coronavirus deal done before the election. What’s the background? A vote on the House floor for such a bill would be historic. The bill would remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act — which classifies it as having no accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse. Until this Congress, such a measure had never passed a House committee, let alone come to a vote before the full chamber.

The bill would remove federal penalties on marijuana and then let states decide if they want to legalize. The bill has been touted as a step toward criminal justice reform, and progressives said they believed it would have helped increase voter turnout for both House and Senate races. But moderates expressed worry that passing it before a coronavirus deal was reached could hurt them on Nov. 3. Senate Republicans have already attacked Democrats over the vote, saying they have time for marijuana but not to pass aid for Americans hurting from the pandemic. House Democrats passed a coronavirus aid bill in May, while Republicans' latest attempt at a bill did not clear a procedural vote in the Senate. Advocates and pro-cannabis lawmakers also had hoped for a vote on the marijuana bill before the election, but they said that a strong showing is more important, given that this bill is not likely to pass the Senate this year and the House will need to revisit it in the next Congress.

What’s next? Congress will be back after the election for a lame duck session, and Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) and Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) say a vote on the bill will happen before the end of the year. "The leadership has now given an ironclad commitment that the House will consider the bill this fall," the Congressional Cannabis Caucus co-chairs said.

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