Are Republicans Chilling Out On Legal Weed?

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American democracy works in strange ways. For example, an entire legislative body can overwhelmingly pass a landmark bill, (or just a regular bill), and it won’t have a chance of actually becoming law. Such is the case with the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, which passed in the House 228-164 last Friday. The bill would federally decriminalize cannabis by removing it from the government’s controlled-substance list. In any case, you’d think the MORE Act would be winning legislation, considering 68 percent of U.S. adults believe weed should be legal. But the bill is doomed to die in the Republican-controlled Senate, so alas, if you want to get legally high, you’ll have to journey to one of the 15 states where recreational pot is legal.

Republicans nowadays don’t all have the same negative attitudes toward drugs that their straight-laced Bush-era counterparts did, so it feels slightly mysterious that even in the House, a measly five Republicans voted in favor of the MORE Act. The Republican ayes included of two Florida representatives: the Trump-adoring up-and-comer Matt Gaetz and Brian Mast. The other yes votes were from longtime pro-cannabis representative Don Young of Alaska, who has a remarkably chill attitude about drugs considering he’s 87 years old; Denver Riggleman III (yes, that’s his real name) of Virginia; and California’s Tom McClintock. Justin Amash, a Michigan representative who was a Republican until 2019 and now represents the Libertarian Party, also voted in favor of the bill.

A reason the bill probably didn’t earn more Republican support is because of its focus on social justice. The MORE Act would add a tax on cannabis sales to benefit communities that were targeted by the disastrous “war on drugs” (one of the many unnecessary wars that this country totally bungled). It would also expunge nonviolent cannabis convictions.

“I prefer my marijuana reform not dipped in reparations policy, frankly,” Gaetz told the New York Times earlier this week, continuing the Trump-era tradition of saying the quiet part out loud. “If Pelosi was serious about marijuana reform we would take a vote on the STATES Act, which would pass the Senate and be signed into law.” The STATES Act, a bipartisan bill introduced in both the House and the Senate in 2018, would remove cannabis from the controlled-substance list without addressing how the war on drugs decimated communities of color.

“Republicans aren’t inherently opposed to reform,” Don Young told Intelligencer via email. “Frankly, I believe the Democrats did this to appease hardliners that weren’t interested in addressing the issue unless they got an expansive bill with all the provisions they wanted … I’m a Representative that takes a win when I can get one, even if it’s more incremental than I like, and then I go back and fight for more. House Democrats very well could have gotten more Republican support had they not played politics and kept things simpler.”

In a political era when compromise has become a dirty word, it’s unsurprising that the Democrats would put forth an idealistic bill that doesn’t have a chance of becoming a law, and that Republicans won’t bend either. “Sure, you currently have the Majority in the House and can pass just about whatever you want,” Young remarked, “but be aware that if it’s not bipartisan, it just goes and dies in the Senate. And just like that, you’re right back to square one.”

It seems inevitable that Republicans will eventually come around on the whole legal weed thing. In the 2020 election, three solidly red states voted in favor of legal marijuana: Mississippi voted to legalize it medically; Montana voted to legalize recreational use; and South Dakota voted to legalize both medical and recreational use. Red, blue, or purple, the future of the U.S. feels greener than ever.