The vote is the first time that any of the chambers of Congress has voted on the issue of the federal government's decriminalization of cannabis.
The vote on Friday is likely to take place largely partisan. Democrats are largely in favor of the federal decriminalization bill, and Republicans are likely to largely oppose it.
“We are in no hurry to legalize marijuana – the Americans have already done that. We are here because Congress failed to tackle a disastrous war on drugs and do its part for the over 50 million regular marijuana users in each of your districts, ”said Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), One advocate long-term liberalization. "We have to catch up with the rest of the American people."
Top Republicans – including House minority leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) And Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) – made derisive public comments on the bill this week, calling the move a frivolous diversion from the government Funding task for the federal government and provision of a new round of coronavirus emergency aid for Americans.
A headline from McConnell: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., Decides to "Puff, Blow, Pass" Emergency Coronavirus Relief.
"It's just amazing how numb they are to these small businesses and the jobs, the families that go with them," said Steve Scalise (R-La.), Whip the minority of the house, in an interview with Fox News Channel on Thursday and proposed Democratic leaders for the vote.
However, some warn that Republicans run the risk of not keeping up with their own voters, who are increasingly campaigning for marijuana restrictions – including full legalization – to be relaxed.
For example, on election day in South Dakota, 54 percent of voters voted to legalize marijuana, while only 36 percent of voters voted for the Democratic presidential ticket. In Montana, the 57 percent who voted to legalize marijuana almost matched the number who voted for Trump to be re-elected. And Mississippi was the first state in the deep south to legalize the use of medical marijuana. 62 percent of voters approved an electoral measure in a state where Trump received 58 percent of the vote.
Fifteen states have now approved some form of recreational cannabis legalization, while 36 states have approved medical marijuana programs, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Decriminalizing marijuana at the federal level would not end the vast majority of cannabis use law enforcement that is taking place in state courts. But it would end annoying conflicts between state and federal law for those states that relaxed pot restrictions and made trade much easier for the multi-billion dollar cannabis industry.
Public opinion seems to be supporting the trend towards state elections. In October, Gallup found that 68 percent of Americans said marijuana use should be legal, the highest support for marijuana legalization since the polls first asked in 1969.
While overwhelming proportions of Democrats and Independents supported legalization, Republicans were split: 52 percent said it shouldn't be legal and 48 percent said it should be legal – a number that has declined slightly from recent years.
But that nearly 50:50 split among Republican voters isn't even reflected in the ranks of GOP lawmakers. Only two of 17 Republicans, Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla. And Tom McClintock, R-Calif., Supported the bill on the House Judiciary Committee.
The prospect of gaining Republican support for the House of Representatives bill was hampered by some of its provisions – for example, the introduction of a 5 percent federal excise tax, which would in part fund programs for “those hardest hit by the war on drugs affected ”, such as vocational training, legal assistance with the overturning of marijuana convictions, and mentoring programs.
The bill also provides for the overturning of federal marijuana convictions from 1971 and prohibits denial of federal public services or security clearance due to marijuana offenses.
That shut down some libertarian Republicans who might otherwise support the removal of marijuana restrictions. "Taxes and Expenses," said Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.), Who said he would have considered voting for the bill had Democratic leaders allowed a vote on an amendment to remove the tax component.
Gaetz said on Friday that he had voted for the bill despite the shortcomings: "The federal government lied to the people in this country about marijuana," he said. "My Republican colleagues will be making a number of arguments against this bill today, but those arguments are overwhelmingly losing out with the American people."
Gaetz is one of a small group of outspoken Republicans who say it was a question of political misconduct that the party did not soften federal marijuana laws.
"The leadership is kind of stuck," said Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Referring to the infamous 1936 prohibition film "Reefer Madness". "I always jokingly say … they were all in the theater and watched. And they still believe that marijuana will somehow destroy the world. "
Pro-pot activists face another major setback when it comes to gaining support from the ranks of the Republicans: the loss of Senator Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) On November 3rd to join the ranks of the Republicans as a particularly passionate advocate of the cannabis industry. It is unclear who – apart from Paul, a libertarian who has often alienated himself from his party's leadership – could take on the cloak.
However, proponents of marijuana legalization say the House of Representatives bill marks a turning point in the long battle to get the marijuana ban overturned, and many see it as only a matter of time before it becomes a bipartisan concern.
Maritza Perez, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance, said the partisan nature of the marijuana debate on Capitol Hill reflected the deeply divided nature of Congress rather than an inextricable difference in politics.
"The tide is really on this issue and I think it's just something the government can no longer ignore," said Perez. "Congress has to come to the table and deal with it."
According to Randal John Meyer, executive director of the Global Alliance for Cannabis Commerce, imperatives go beyond political change. Businesses in states that have legalized marijuana are facing an increasingly incoherent legal and regulatory framework.
"It has reached a critical tipping point where the fundamentals of getting someone to work and do their job in accordance with state law and licenses violates the federally prohibited Republican stance," said Meyer, a former aide of Paul . "This tension cannot hold; it extends beyond the predetermined breaking point."
Republicans, he added, will increasingly find that their anti-pot stance runs counter to their more fundamental tenets of business and regulation: Regarding the mitigation effort, he said, “The Democratic Party is actually trying to generate new business and new industry with it and to contribute to the recovery of the economy. "
However, interviews with several Republican lawmakers showed a fundamental reluctance to relax the pot restrictions – even in states where voters have already endorsed legalization measures.
In Arizona, 60 percent of voters voted for legalization last month, but Rep. Debbie Lesko (R-Ariz.) Said she was not inclined to relax federal laws as she had addiction concerns after using Talked to teenagers in recovery programs.
"Each of them – they said they started marijuana," she said. "I'm not saying that anyone who smokes marijuana will be addicted to harder drugs, but I am concerned that we have so many addiction-related costs in our country."
"With everything that's going on in our world, I don't necessarily think this is the right time," said Rep. Jeff Van Drew (RN.J.), who represents a state where two-thirds of voters have marijuana Wanted to legalize Last month. “There are certain points to consider. But the bottom line is that I'm interested in urban areas and children. "
Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.), Who represents a state where cannabis use has been legal for nearly seven years, said he supported easing some commercial restrictions on the pot industry. But he said, “It will make sense one day to go as far as you can. I'm not sure if it makes any sense right now. "
Proponents say they plan to redouble their efforts in the new Congress, but a much tighter Democratic majority could mean the bill expected to be passed Friday – known as the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act – may not come back to the House let alone the Senate, in which McConnell is firmly against the legalization of pot. However, Democratic victories in Georgia’s January 5 special election would put McConnell out of the way and could open a narrow window for compromise action.
Perez said the trend is clear and more Republicans need to change their minds: "I really believe that the November election can help really change some of these members as they realize this is going to happen and they get on board need to, "she said.
Emily Guskin contributed to this report.