Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., holds his face mask as he appears before members of the media following a House Judiciary Committee closed door meeting with former federal prosecutor for the Southern District of New York Geoffrey Berman on Capitol Hill.
House Judiciary Chair Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), the lead sponsor of a bill that would remove the penalties for marijuana, said the calls for criminal justice reform pushed the bill from committee limbo to a vote on the floor. | Andrew Harnik/AP Photo

Democrats are taking an unprecedented gamble this month: voting to legalize cannabis at the federal level.

The MORE Act would remove the penalties for marijuana, erase some criminal records and create grant programs for people hit especially hard by the war on drugs.

Democrats say the timing is perfect: Support has been building for loosening marijuana restrictions over the last decade, with the most recent Gallup poll showing 66 percent of Americans favor legalization, including more than half of Republicans.

The demands for racial justice that have ratcheted up following the killing of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd gave the bill the final push it needed to get a floor vote.

“You have sort of a convergence of all of these movements and issues and hype,” said Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), a co-chair of the cannabis caucus. “I think this is the perfect time to move it onto the floor [and] over to the Senate.”

But the vote comes with risks. It’s landing in the midst of a stalemate between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the White House over a new coronavirus aid bill, raising worries about the optics of focusing on marijuana during a pandemic.

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