When legislators who oppose federal marijuana prohibition vote against your legalization bill, you probably are doing something wrong. That is what happened in April, when the House of Representatives approved the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act.
The 220 ayes included 217 Democrats but only three Republicans, two fewer than voted for the MORE Act in 2020. That tiny tally suggests that Democrats are not really interested in building the bipartisan coalition that would be necessary to resolve the conflict between state and federal marijuana laws.
Even if Senate Democrats unanimously supported a legalization bill, they would still need help from 10 Republicans to overcome a filibuster. But both the MORE Act and the legalization bill that Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D–N.Y.) planned to introduce by August include unnecessarily complicated and contentious provisions.
A simpler approach could help attract GOP votes. The Respect State Marijuana Laws Act of 2017, sponsored by then-Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R–Calif.), consisted of a single sentence that said the federal marijuana ban would no longer apply to state-authorized conduct. Its 46 co-sponsors included 14 Republicans—11 more than voted for the MORE Act this year.
The Common Sense Cannabis Reform Act, which Rep. Dave Joyce (R–Ohio) introduced in May 2021, is 14 pages long. So far it has just eight co-sponsors, including four Republicans, but that still means it has more GOP support than Democrats managed to attract for the 92-page MORE Act, which includes new taxes, regulations, and spending programs.
Rep. Thomas Massie (R–Ky.) thinks Congress never should have banned marijuana, because it had no constitutional authority to do so. He nevertheless voted against the MORE Act, objecting to the “new marijuana crimes” its tax and regulatory provisions would create, with each violation punishable by up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
Schumer’s bill seems even less likely to lure Republicans. The preliminary version, which runs 163 pages, would levy a 25 percent federal excise tax on top of state and local taxes, impose picayune federal regulations, and create the sort of “social equity” programs that gave pause even to Rep. Matt Gaetz (R–Fla.), the MORE Act’s lone Republican co-sponsor.
Last year, 106 House Republicans voted to protect financial institutions that serve state-licensed marijuana businesses from federal prosecution, forfeiture, and regulatory penalties. That bill would already be law if Schumer had not blocked it in the Senate, insisting that his own legislation take priority. Instead of building on Republican support for marijuana federalism, Democrats seem determined to alienate potential allies.