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Orange County’s Democratic leaders celebrate historic House vote to decriminalize marijuana

Orange County’s all-Democratic congressional leadership celebrated Friday after the House approved a bill to decriminalize and tax cannabis at the federal level.

The vote, they believe, reverses what supporters describe as a failed policy of criminalizing marijuana consumption, and it takes steps to address racial disparities in enforcement of federal drug laws.

“Decriminalizing marijuana at the federal level is long overdue,” said Rep. Harley Rouda, D-Laguna Beach.

“The MORE Act of 2020 promotes free enterprise, addresses legal inequities in communities of color, and opens doors in the public health field,” Rouda continued.

“As states continue to join California and decriminalize cannabis, Congress must keep up with the times and reimagine our nation’s federal drug policy.”

The bill isn’t expected to pass the GOP-controlled Senate unless Democrats are able to flip two seats in Georgia that are headed to a runoff next month.

Opponents, mostly Republicans, called the bill a hollow political gesture and mocked Democrats for bringing it up at a time when thousands of Americans are dying from the coronavirus pandemic.

“They’re picking weed over the workers,” said House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield.

House Democrats — who have pushed COVID-related proposals to the Senate — said they can work on pandemic relief and marijuana reform at the same time. Rep. Mike Levin, D-San Juan Capistrano, spoke on the House floor Thursday in support of bipartisan compromise on pandemic assistance.

But Rep. Lou Correa, who voiced his support for the cannabis bill on the floor before Friday’s vote, said it was time to align federal law “with the will of the people.”

Friday’s vote came at a time when most Americans live in states where marijuana is legal in some form, and lawmakers from both parties agreed that national cannabis policy has lagged woefully behind changes at the state level.

Supporters say the cannabis bill would help end the decades-long “war on drugs” by removing marijuana from the list of federally controlled substances while allowing states to set their own rules on legalization and commercial markets. The bill also would use money from a new excise tax on marijuana to help groups and communities harmed by the so-called drug war and help people erase criminal records for federal marijuana convictions and arrests.

Correa has long backed decriminalizing marijuana in large part because he says he’s seen how it’s helped veterans. The MORE Act includes Correa’s amendment that calls for researching cannabis as an alternative medicine for veterans.

“Veterans prefer cannabis over opioids to treat the invisible wounds that they bring back from the battlefield,” he said.

Drug reform advocates and industry supporters called the House vote historic, noting it is the first time comprehensive legislation to decriminalize marijuana has passed the full House or Senate.

“This is really a tremendous day,” said Lindsay Robinson, executive director of California Cannabis Industry Alliance trade group. “The MORE Act is the critical first step we need to completely end the War on Drugs.”

Five Republicans, including Rep. Tom McClintock of Northern California, supported the MORE Act. Six Democrats from outside the West Coast voted against the bill.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Source: Orange County Register

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