History made: For the first time, House passes bill to decriminalize marijuana

If Trump wants to make a splash on his way out the door, he should drop his futile bid to repeal Section 230 and tweet out a demand for the Senate to pass this instead. It would scramble American politics in one shot, putting pressure on McConnell and Republicans to consider it before January 20, putting pressure on Biden to consider it after January 20, and earning himself some strange new respect ahead of a run in 2024. Liberalizing marijuana laws has become very popular among Americans, and Democrats have left Trump a wide opening to seize that political territory due to their timidity on the subject.

He should do it. It’d be “on brand” too in the sense that he got elected in 2016 as a non-traditional Republican, someone who didn’t hold strong views about “values” issues like gay marriage. (Although he’s been careful not to get on the wrong side of evangelicals on policies that matter to them.) It’s hard to imagine machine politicians like George W. Bush or Mitt Romney or even Ted Cruz or Tom Cotton bucking party orthodoxy by calling for decriminalizing weed. It’s easier to imagine Trump, the “outsider,” doing so. And it might help cement the gains he made among black voters in last month’s election, as blacks are more than four times more likely than whites to be arrested for possession of weed.

Plus, as a matter of basic psychology, Trump loves to surprise people and create sensations. This would be a rare opportunity for him to do so in a positive way, unlike, say, pardoning himself and his entire family.

Look at it this way: If he doesn’t do it, Sleepy Joe might. Biden has already said that he supports decriminalization, although not full legalization. Trump should relish stealing his thunder.

The bill passed by a vote of 228-164, with several Republicans on board. While the MORE Act is not expected to come up in the Senate this year, and likely won’t in the next session of Congress either, its passage nevertheless marks a monumental step in marijuana policy…

The MORE Act … would remove federal criminal penalties on marijuana, erase nonviolent federal marijuana criminal records, provide money for states to scrub marijuana criminal records, too, and create grant programs to assist those affected following the Controlled Substances Act becoming law in the Nixon era…

“What we’re doing here is … recognizing that there is a longtime war on civil rights that was instituted by the Nixon administration,” said Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), the bill’s sponsor and chair of the House Judiciary Committee. “And we’re eliminating it.”

It pains me to report that fewer Republicans voted yes than Democrats voted no:

House GOPers complained that the bill was a distraction from passing a COVID stimulus, which is sort of true but overlooks the fact that this bill has been delayed for a year precisely because Congress was busy passing other rounds of COVID stimulus. (They’ve been taking their sweet-ass time on the latest round too, as we’re all aware, so why not spend an afternoon on something else?) Republicans also complained about the part of the bill that would expunge the records of federal marijuana offenders and require judges to vacate the sentences of prisoners doing time for weed possession. Some complained that that was tantamount to being soft on crime, but … that’s the point of decriminalization, right? The national legislature would be formally making a judgment that marijuana use isn’t an infraction so serious that it requires being put in a cage.

A lot of Americans agree with that judgment too. A lot.

You can blame the libs for that if you like but then you’d also have to overlook the results from election night this year. Voters in five states chose to legalize marijuana, and some of those states are very far from blue. And the votes weren’t close either.

On Election Day in South Dakota, for instance, 54 percent of voters opted to legalize marijuana, while only 36 percent of voters chose the Democratic presidential ticket. In Montana, the 57 percent who voted to legalize marijuana nearly matched the number who voted to reelect Trump. And Mississippi became the first state in the Deep South to legalize medical marijuana use, with 62 percent of voters approving a ballot measure in a state where Trump won 58 percent of the vote.

Fifteen states have now authorized some form of recreational cannabis legalization, while 36 states have approved medical marijuana programs, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

In the purple state of Arizona, a ballot initiative to legalize marijuana passed by … 20 points.

If liberalizing marijuana laws is so popular with voters, why are Republicans in Congress still so reluctant to do it — with McConnell vowing that he won’t even bring the MORE Act up for a vote? It’s because righties are still closely divided on the subject even if the rest of the country isn’t. In the Gallup poll linked above, 48 percent of GOPers said they support legalization versus 52 percent who don’t. A Pew poll taken last year found similar numbers but with Republicans and leaners narrowly in favor at 55/44. That being so, if you’re a Republican congressman representing an R+20 district or whatever, what’s the safe play? Sticking with the line on weed that the party and its base have been following for generations or embracing the liberal position which happens to be correct on the merits but which just might earn you a primary challenge for being bad on values?

That’s why only five Republicans voted for the bill. And it’s also why only an intervention by Trump on this subject could shake things up. The GOP is 48/52 today but what would it be if he gave a 10-minute speech about the failed drug war that ended with him calling for passage of the bill? 60/40, maybe? All Senate Republicans need from him is a little cover.

Here’s MAGA favorite Matt Gaetz making the case for decriminalization today, to his credit. If Trump can’t lend this cause some populist cred, maybe Gaetz can.