As the votes on a federal cannabis legalization bill were tallied in the U.S. House last Friday, a clear divide along party lines emerged just like on many other issues carving out that aisle in the Capitol.

The final roll call was 220-204 in support of the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, which aims to remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act, provide expungements for those with cannabis offenses and impose a federal tax on cannabis to fund programs for those adversely affected by the drug war.

RELATED: U.S. House Passes MORE Act, Again

That was just the second time a full chamber of Congress voted on broad cannabis reform, but the outcome was more partisan than when the House voted, 228-164, in December 2020 to pass a previous version of the bill.

In last week’s vote, only three Republicans broke party ties to support the measure: Reps. Matt Gaetz, Fla., Brian Mast, Fla., and Tom McClintock, Calif.

Even fewer Democrats crossed the aisle to cast no votes: Reps. Henry Cuellar, Texas, and Chris Pappas, N.H.

By comparison, six Democrats voted no, and five Republicans voted yes in 2020.

So, why does cannabis reform appear to be a partisan issue among lawmakers in Washington, D.C., when legalization continues to pick up growing bipartisan support elsewhere?

For example, states with traditional conservative ties, like Arizona, Montana and South Dakota, made moves to legalize adult-use cannabis in the 2020 election (although South Dakota’s voter-approved initiative was overturned).

In the swing state of Ohio, a Gongwer Werth Legislative Opinion Poll from November 2021 revealed that Republican lawmakers in the state’s General Assembly were split down the line, with 43% in favor and 43% opposed to adult-use legalization (14% were undecided).

Moreover, 68% of Americans support full legalization, according to a November Gallup Poll.

But just because the MORE Act didn’t receive GOP support in the House does not mean Republican’s don’t support federal cannabis legalization. In fact, U.S. Republican Reps. Nancy Macy, S.C., and Dave Joyce, Ohio, have been vocal proponents of reform, signifying that the aisle divide in Washington is grounded in the appropriate path forward.

Leading up to her no vote on the MORE Act, Mace said she opposed the Democratic-sponsored bill because it would put too much power in the hands of the federal government, NBC-affiliate WCBD reported.

“The [South Carolina] Legislature is moving towards passage of the Compassionate Care Act, a bill to allow medical cannabis to treat those in dire need,” Mace told the news outlet. “[The MORE Act] would override that and use the heavy hand of the federal government to revoke sovereignty of our state.”

Becoming the GOP face of federal cannabis reform in recent months, Mace introduced the States Reform Act (SRA) in November. Her bill offers a legalization path that includes a 3% federal cannabis excise tax and provides state governments the power to regulate cannabis products through the health-and-safety oversights of their choosing.

Meanwhile, Joyce’s support for cannabis reform goes back several years, including his role as the Republican co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus and his co-sponsorship of the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act.

Last year, Joyce and the late Don Young, R-Alaska, introduced the “Common Sense Cannabis Reform for Veterans, Small Business and Medical Professional Act.” In part, that bill would remove cannabis from the Controlled Substance Act.

Like Mace, Joyce voted against the MORE Act.

“Now is not the time for Congress to simply check a box on cannabis reform,” Joyce said in a statement explaining his vote. “Yet here we are, voting on more-or-less the same, deeply flawed bill that barely passed the House last Congress and died directly thereafter.

“With a president who has made clear his unwillingness to fully desechedule cannabis and a Senate majority leader set to roll out his own comprehensive package, no serious legislator, cannabis advocate, or industry stakeholder believes the MORE Act has any prospect of becoming law this Congress. How do I know this? They told me. I only wish they told the millions who are depending on them as well.”

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and colleagues Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Cory Booker, D-N.J., are lined up for a formal introduction of their Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act (CAOA) later this month. They’ve indicated they first want to push a vote on their measure before considering other cannabis reform efforts.

While the MORE Act could be considered dead on arrival in the Senate, its House passage is a strong signal for where federal reform stands, U.S. Cannabis Council CEO Steven Hawkins said in a statement following the vote.

“Descheduling of cannabis is on the march across the United States, and the House has now passed the MORE Act in two successive sessions of Congress,” he said. “Today’s historic vote comes as the Senate prepares for the formal introduction of the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act. Taken together, Congress is strongly signaling that the end of federal cannabis prohibition is nearing.”

He added that as more Americans enter the cannabis workforce, which already includes more than 400,000 people, the pressure will build on Congress to act.

To help build that pressure, the U.S. Cannabis Council co-launched the Cannabis in Common initiative with HeadCount’s Cannabis Voter Project in November.

That initiative, focused on pointing out that more than two-thirds of Americans agree that cannabis should be fully legalized, was ignited behind the backing of American comedian and actress Sarah Silverman and Canadian actor and comedian Seth Rogen.

“Despite what you may have heard, Americans can actually agree on something,” Rogen said. “And that something is weed.”

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