Dec. 4 (UPI) -- The House voted Friday to decriminalize marijuana at the federal level and became the first chamber of Congress to do so, though Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell has indicated he's unlikely to take up the bill in the upper chamber.
The House passed the bill, called the MORE Act, largely along party lines -- 228-164.
In addition to removing marijuana from the list of federally controlled substances, it would expunge some prior criminal records for marijuana possession and provide finding to help communities impacted by the war on drugs.
Reps. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., and Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., introduced the bill, saying the government should not treat marijuana as a "criminal justice problem."
"I have long believed that the criminalization of marijuana has been a mistake, and the racially disparate enforcement of marijuana laws has only compounded this mistake, with serious consequences, particularly for communities of color," Nadler said in a statement before Friday's vote.
McConnell, though, criticized House Democrats for taking up the issue as Congress attempts to come to an agreement on a new round of COVID-19 relief.
"The House of Representatives is spending this week on pressing issues like marijuana. You know, serious and important legislation befitting this national crisis," he said on the Senate floor Thursday.
"But here in the Senate, I put forward a serious and highly targeted relief proposal including the elements which we know the president is ready and willing to sign into law."
Even if the full Congress passed the MORE Act and the president signed it into law, individual states would still need to legalize marijuana for it to be legal there. Recreational use of marijuana is already legal in 15 states, the District of Columbia, the Northern Mariana Islands and Guam. Several other states have legalized it for medical use.
According to a Gallup poll last month, 68% of Americans favored making marijuana legal, the greatest share since the pollster began asking the question in 1969, when just 12% supported legalization.