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4 Southern U.S. House members break party ranks on bill to remove marijuana penalties

3 Southern Republicans vote in favor, 1 Democrat against removing marijuana from list of controlled substances

♦By Rich Shumate, editor

WASHINGTON (CFP) — On a nearly party-line vote, the U.S. House approved landmark legislation Friday to remove federal criminal penalties for marijuana and erase past convictions for cannabus-related offenses.

Three Southern Republicans broke ranks with most of their party to support the measure — U.S. Reps. Matt Gaetz and Brian Mast of Florida and Denver Riggleman of Virginia. One Southern Democrat, U.S. Rep. Henry Cueller of Texas, was among just six Democrats who voted against the bill.

Gaetz speaks in favor of bill on House floor (From C-Span via Twitter)

While the bill is not expected to advance in the Senate, Friday’s 222-to-164 vote in represents a sea change in political attitudes toward marijuana, which will soon be legal for medical use in 36 states and for adult recreational use in 15.

Gaetz, the only Republican co-sponsor of the measure, gave a full-throated oration in favor of the bill on the House floor.

“The federal government has lied to the people of this country about marijuana for a generation,” Gaetz said. “We have seen a generation, particularly of black and brown youth, locked up for offenses that should not have resulted in any incarceration whatsoever.”

Noting that marijuana liberalization passed in every state where it was on the ballot in November, Gaetz said “the only thing that I know of that’s more popular than getting out of the war on drugs is getting out of the war in Afghanistan.”

In November, Mississippi voters approved a medical marijuana initiative, the last Southern state to approve medical cannabus use. However, no Southern state yet allows adult recreational use of marijuana.

Since 1970, marijuana has been categorized as a schedule one drug, in the same category as cocaine and heroin, which precludes medical use. The federal prohibition has created significant problems for people growing and selling marijuana in states where sale is authorized, including preventing them from using banks.

The new law would deschedule the drug, provide a process for people convicted of marijuana offenses to expunge their records, and impose a tax on marijuana sales. States would still be allowed to impose their own regulations.

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