House Dems punt marijuana legalization vote into November, after election

Published on September 17, 2020 · Last updated September 24, 2020
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, center, decided to delay a vote on cannabis legalization until after the November election. House Democrats in moderate districts worried the optics of the vote could harm their re-election bids. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

A potentially historic vote on marijuana legalization, via the MORE Act, has been put off until after November’s general election. The vote had been originally scheduled for the week of Sept. 21.

It’s widely believed that the decision by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) was made in deference to Democratic House members running for re-election in moderate districts. Republican leaders have recently been playing up the idea that Democrats were more interested in legalizing marijuana than in passing the latest round of COVID-19 relief legislation.

Natalie Fertig and Paul Demko, writing for Politico last week, wrote about the risk the vote carried:

“It’s landing in the midst of a stalemate between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the White House over a new coronavirus aid bill, raising worries about the optics of focusing on marijuana during a pandemic. Republicans mocked Democrats at the Republican National Convention for declaring cannabis businesses essential enough to remain open during the early days of the pandemic, and repeatedly ridiculed them for including a provision to give banks legal cover for serving the marijuana industry in their most recent coronavirus relief bill.”

Even though two-thirds of Americans believe it’s time to legalize cannabis for all adults, that support isn’t evenly spread across all Congressional districts. In more moderate districts, some Democrats were feeling anxious about how the optics of a cannabis legalization vote could play with their constituents.

House progressives like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) have been arguing for a floor vote, in a show of party values in favor of criminal justice reform.

Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), one of the bill’s primary sponsors, noted earlier this week that the MORE Act has been gaining in popularity in Congress, picking up dozens of co-sponsors in just the past two weeks. The bill had 111 co-sponsors as of early Thursday, and has a number of Republicans on its side.

Justin Strekal, political director of NORML, noted: “This delay by the House does not change the fact that the overwhelming majority of voters support ending the federal prohibition of cannabis, including majorities of Democrats, Independents, and Republicans.” 

“The concerns that led to a delay in the roll-call were not substantive about the legislation itself,” Strekal added. “Rather, they were a result of the political uncertainties and division that have consistently plagued Congress in the wake of the Senate and White House’s refusal to work with House Democrats to pass another round of COVID economic relief.”

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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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