Most Georgia Republicans skip marijuana decriminalization vote

Measure passed largely along party lines with Democrats in favor

WASHINGTON — All five Georgia Democrats in the U.S. House voted in favor of a bill that would decriminalize marijuana at the federal level.

However, Republican members of the state delegation were largely absent from deliberations on the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act. The bill, which passed largely along party lines, also would create a process to expunge the record of individuals who previously pleaded guilty to most marijuana charges.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop said he voted in favor of the proposal because while most states have changed their outlook on marijuana, federal laws have not been updated.

“Forty-seven states have already done so, and if this bill becomes law, states will not have to worry about federal intervention,” Bishop, who lives in Albany, said in a news release. “In addition to decriminalizing marijuana, this bill will create taxes on marijuana to fund new grant programs and will expunge previous marijuana convictions of non-violent offenders only.”

Six of the Georgia’s eight GOP lawmakers did not cast votes Friday. A ninth seat is vacant after U.S. Rep. Tom Graves resigned before the end of his final term.

U.S. Rep. Doug Collins missed the vote because he was flying to Atlanta with Vice President Mike Pence for an event at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention with U.S. Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler. A spokeswoman for Collins, who lives in Gainesville, said he would have been a “no” on the MORE Act if he were in Washington.

Pence then traveled to Savannah for a campaign rally on behalf of Loeffler and Perdue. One of the opening speakers there was U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter, who represents the area. Carter also missed the MORE Act vote.

The other Republicans who did not vote — U.S. Reps. Rick Allen, Drew Ferguson, Barry Loudermilk and Austin Scott — did not immediately respond to questions about their absence. Allen, of Evans, and Scott, of Tifton, both recently announced that they had tested positive for the coronavirus and may still be quarantining.

Only U.S. Reps. Jody Hice of Monroe and Rob Woodall of Lawrenceville were present to vote with Republican colleagues against the bill. With Democrats and a handful of Republicans in favor, the MORE Act was approved 228-164.

It is unlikely to be brought for a vote in the Republican-held Senate before the end of the year, meaning the bill is unlikely to become law.

In general, Republicans have criticized this marijuana decriminalization proposal as a distraction that takes away from more pressing matters, such as coronavirus relief. Democrats say they are pushing forward on criminal justice legislation they believe is necessary and overdue.

Five Republicans from other states crossed party lines and voted with Democrats in favor of the bill; six Democrats voted “no” with a majority of Republicans.

The Democratic majority includes U.S. Rep. Kwanza Hall, who was sworn into office on Thursday as the late Congressman John Lewis’ replacement. It was his first vote on a substantial policy bill.