In a major reversal, Rep. Chris Pappas abandoned his long-standing support for marijuana decriminalization — not to mention any allies he has in the Black Lives Matter movement — to join Republicans in opposing the MORE Act.

On Friday, Pappas was one of only six Democrats who, along with 158 Republicans, voted against the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment & Expungement (MORE) Act.

Perhaps more significantly, Pappas also voted in favor of an unsuccessful GOP amendment to ensure that “an employer may test an employee or applicant for cannabis use to ensure workplace and public safety.”

Fellow NH Democratic Rep. Annie Kuster voted in favor of the MORE Act and against the GOP amendment.

Pappas’s vote, in particular his support for employer drug testing, is a rejection of the premise of the legislation and the progressive activists behind it.

“In the midst of an ongoing national reckoning on racial injustice, it is imperative that we confront and dismantle the very policies that have caused generations of systemic hurt and harm to our Black and brown communities,” Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) said after the bill’s passage.

“By passing the MORE Act, sweeping legislation which would decriminalize marijuana at the federal level and combat the long-standing mass incarceration crisis by allowing for the expungement and resentencing of federal cannabis convictions, this Democratic-led House of Representatives has taken a historic step towards unraveling the harm perpetuated by systemic racism,” Pressley said.

Ronelle Tshiela with the New Hampshire Black Lives Matter movement was more direct: “This is a vote against racial justice.”

Perhaps. But assuming Pappas will be running for re-election in the First Congressional District being re-drawn by Granite State Republicans, it may be a vote in favor of his possible re-election.

Pappas declined repeated requests for comment, but he did post a statement on his web page.

“There are elements of the MORE Act that I strongly support, including de-scheduling marijuana at the federal level and empowering states to determine their own policies that make sense for them,” Pappas wrote. “But I have serious concerns about the many unanswered questions that I have heard from local public health and safety experts in my state about expunging certain federal drug convictions and implementing aspects of this legislation.”

That’s a position certain to antagonize progressives in Pappas’ party.

“If you want to know what systemic racism is, look no further than the war on drugs,” said Udi Ofer, director of the ACLU’s Justice Division after the vote. “Today we celebrate passage of the MORE Act through one chamber of Congress, and tomorrow we will work in the Senate to remove last-minute amendments that diluted the impact of this historic bill.”

The bill’s sponsor in the Senate is Vice President-elect Sen. Kamala Harris of California. It’s extremely unlikely to make it to President Trump’s desk.

The legislation:

  • Decriminalizes marijuana at the federal level by removing the substance from the Controlled Substances Act.
  • Establishes a tax regime for cannabis products, including excise and occupational taxes.
  • Expunges marijuana offenses from the records of non-violent marijuana offenders.
  • Prohibits the denial of any federal public benefit based on the use or possession of marijuana.
  • Ensures immigrants, legal and illegal, will have no adverse impact under the immigration laws for marijuana offenses.

“Ensuring fairness in our justice system and keeping our communities safe are not mutually exclusive,” Pappas posted on his website. “We can and must do both, and I’m hopeful this issue can be addressed through the legislative process next term.”

Pappas’ challenge is to find a way to keep that next term from being his last. If GOP re-districting puts him in the Second Congressional District with Rep. Kuster (per the latest rumor), it may be a moot point. If he’s drawn into a heavily-Republican First CD, Pappas faces a strategic question: Does he need to appeal to GOP-leaning independents, or does he need to energize the progressive base?

Current score: GOP indies, 1. Progressives, 0.

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