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Alaska’s Young among 5 in GOP who voted to decriminalize pot

December 7, 2020 GMT

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — Alaska’s longest-serving Republican representative was one of only five members of his party who voted in favor of a U.S. House bill to decriminalize marijuana nationwide.

Congressman Don Young voted in favor of the reform bill that passed the House 228-164 Friday, but is unlikely to go further before Congress adjourns for the year, Alaska Public Media reported Sunday.

The bill would decriminalize and tax marijuana, or cannabis, at the federal level — reversing what supporters call a failed policy of criminalizing pot use and taking steps to address racial disparities in enforcement of federal drug laws.

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Opponents, mostly Republicans, called the bill a hollow political gesture and mocked Democrats for bringing it up at a time when thousands of Americans are dying from the coronavirus pandemic.

Young announced his vote in a tweet Friday calling the measure “the most significant #cannabis reform legislation in decades,” along with a photo of him touring an Alaska marijuana growing operation in 2019.

“This bill isn’t perfect, but it takes important steps to safeguard our personal liberties and freedom,” Young’s tweet said.

Alaska and 14 other states have legalized cannabis for recreational use by adults, while a majority of states allow its use for medical purposes.

Young serves as co-chair of the House Cannabis Caucus, despite not not advocating for marijuana use.

“I’m a conservative, Republican,” Young said in 2017 when the caucus was announced. “But I believe in state’s rights.”

He said the federal government should not overrule voters in his state.

Supporters have said the pot bill would help end the decades-long “war on drugs” by removing marijuana from the list of federally controlled substances while allowing states to set their own rules on pot.

The bill also would use money from a new excise tax on marijuana to address the needs of groups and communities harmed by the so-called drug war and provide for the expungement of federal marijuana convictions and arrests.

Passage of the House bill is considered a significant milestone for the movement to make cannabis legal nationwide, but the legislation is thought to be unlikely to pass the Senate before the end of the 116th Congress.

The bill’s supporters would have to reintroduce the legislation when Congress reconvenes in 2021.