A Few Reasons Why Top Republican Senators Oppose Federal Legalization
And what it means for the MORE Act.
The House of Representatives approved the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment, and Expungement (MORE) Act, H.R. 3617 on April 1, sending it to Senate. The MORE Act removes cannabis from the federal Controlled Substances Act, allowing states to legalize cannabis, its production, and sale, free from federal interference.
Reaching the Senate is an accomplishment in itself after many attempts, the legislation now needs bipartisan approval in the body and then President Biden’s signature. That said, let's look at where some senators stand on federal legalization of marijuana.
When asked last week at the Capitol about the MORE Act, Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) said, “Okay, I don’t support that. I’ve had family members who have had a lot of drug issues, and so I’m not going to do it,” reported CNSNews.
Sen. Scott is far from being the only senator who opposes cannabis legalization. Some other senators were asked if they'd ever consumed marijuana and if not, then why not? Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex) replied, “I don’t because it’s illegal and because it’s harmful to you. It’s not healthy.”
Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) was asked if he used cannabis and whether he also thought it to be harmful, to which he replied: “I do actually, and I think the science also shows that as well, so this is one of those interesting debates where people talk about ‘follow the science’ on it, okay – well, follow the science on it and be able to track the reports.”
Lankford continued, “I understand the House is going to try and skip the science and say we’re not going to look into that because people use it, we’re just going to allow it. But increasing the use of cannabis doesn’t make our streets safer, doesn’t make our workplaces safer, it doesn’t make our families stronger.
“They’re doing a pure economic issue, and to say let people do what they want to do they ignore the human cost of that,” he concluded.
What about medical marijuana?
Sen. Lindsey Graham, on the other hand, recently revealed he is “open to” medical marijuana as the MORE Act heads to the Senate.
“Medical marijuana, I’ve heard from many people in our state, seems to have some value,” said Graham per WMBF News. “If you can show me, and I think there’s evidence that it is helpful, then the medical marijuana idea I’d be open to.”
While Graham’s opposition to federal cannabis legalization, especially in the midst of an opioid crisis, is perfectly clear, he seems to understand the value of medical marijuana.
“One thing we’ve got to realize, opioids help with pain, but they create a lot of addiction,” Graham said. “There’s no easy answer here, but in terms of legalizing marijuana, no. I think it brings a lot of problems with it. In terms of allowing marijuana in controlled environments in the hands of doctors, that could be something I could support.”
How did the bill pass House Of Representatives?
It turns out, the bill passed in a 220-204 vote, with five sustained. 217 Democrats said yes to the measure decriminalizing marijuana, while only two voted against it. On the other side of the aisle, 202 Republicans voted against the bill, and three supported it.
Who are the three Republicans who said yes to the MORE Act? They are Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), Rep. Brian Mast (R-Fla.) and Rep. Tom McClintock (R-Calif.).
Interestingly though Rep. Nancy Mace (R-SC), who is viewed as one of the leaders among GOP representatives in favor of removing cannabis from the list of federally controlled substances, voted against it. Why?
“The MORE Act forces a system on South Carolinians and other states they do not want. By comparison, my bill, the States Reform Act, removes the federal government from the equation and allows states to decide for themselves,” Mace explained as reported by The State.
She presented her own bill – the States Reform Act – last November though the measure failed in 12 committees and seven subcommittees without a hearing.
According to Mace, the House passage of the MORE act may be a good start for creating a bipartisan consensus around legislation that would remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act, reported Marijuana Business Daily.
How to get Republican support?
Mace has said that many of her Republican colleagues don’t understand that her bill doesn’t actually legalize cannabis at the federal level, but rather provides full control to each state. Mace notes that giving control to states and treating cannabis like alcohol is the only way for marijuana reform to garner Republican support.
Getting Republican support is the ultimate question to ponder considering that many industry experts doubt the Senate will approve federal marijuana reform this year. Furthermore, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) confirmed last week that he and his colleagues are planning to consult with Republican senators to find out what “they want” included in a bill to federally legalize cannabis, which he should present this month.
“We hope to [file the bill] towards the end of April,” Schumer said, as reported by Marijuana Moment. The leader added that he, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) “are talking about it and, in fact, we’re trying to reach out” to other lawmakers about the measure.
“I’ve reached out already to a few Republicans to see what they want,” Schumer said
What does Schumer's bill propose?
Schumer and fellow Sens. Cory Booker and Ron Wyden introduced the outline of the proposed Cannabis Administration & Opportunity Act (CAOA) last July.
The proposal included plans to remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act. If passed, the bill would also expunge prior convictions and allow people who are serving time for applicable crimes to petition for resentencing.
In addition, states would retain their rights to set their own marijuana policies and help those who've been criminalized over the cannabis plant.
In February, the trio asked senators to help them complete the marijuana legalization bill expected to be filed in April. To that end, the top Senate Democrats sent letters to their colleagues encouraging them to get into the drafting process and help finalize this legislation.
What if the bill gains Republican support?
Another question to consider – what will happen if one or the other cannabis legalization bills actually pass in the Senate and reaches Biden’s desk?
Many marijuana industry experts agree that Biden probably won’t use his presidential veto to nix the cannabis legalization bill if it reaches his desk. Why? Good question. Though there's not much doubt that if he does not sign off on legalizing cannabis, the president risks losing young voters -something no politician can afford.