Rep. Nancy Mace, a first-term Republican from South Carolina, introduced a bill Monday to decriminalize cannabis at the federal level, which she hopes will garner more GOP support for the legalization movement.
"This legislation, I believe, has something good for everyone, whether you're a Democrat or a Republican," Mace told reporters outside the Capitol, where she introduced her States Reform Act.
Even though it is legal in 18 states, with medical use permissible in 37 states, marijuana is illegal under federal law.
Mace's bill would strip cannabis of its classification as a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act, which makes possession of marijuana a crime. Her office said the legislation aims to end criminalization "in a manner consistent with the rights of states to determine what level of cannabis reform or legalization each state wants to regulate, or not."
The measure also would allow for expungement of federal convictions in nonviolent cases and provide a framework for federal regulation and enforcement in states that allow the sale of marijuana.
Sales would be prohibited to people under 21, Mace said, adding that the bill would establish cannabis regulations similar to restrictions on alcohol.
The legislation further calls for a 3 percent federal excise tax on marijuana, lower than the level in a Democratic bill that is making its way through the House.
"I kept it very low," Mace said, pointing to high taxes on marijuana in California, which she said have stoked black market sales. "It's got to be under 4 percent to reduce the opportunity for illicit markets."
A Gallup poll released this month found that 68 percent of Americans support legalizing marijuana, with backing from 83 percent of Democrats and 50 percent of Republicans.
Mace said her bill already has five Republican co-sponsors.
"My main goal is to get as much Republican support as I can initially, and we're hearing great feedback," she said.
But the chair of the South Carolina GOP, Drew McKissick, denounced Mace's effort.
"Unequivocally, the South Carolina Republican Party is against any effort to legalize, decriminalize the use of controlled substances, and that includes this bill. Since this will have widespread negative impacts, from rising crime, violence, and mental health issues in children, I think it's a safe bet to say most Republicans will be against it too," McKissick said in a statement.
The Democratic-controlled House passed a broader but similar bill late last year called the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act. A total of 222 Democrats and five Republicans voted for the legislation, while six Democrats and 158 Republicans voted against it.
The bill died in the Senate, which at the time was controlled by Republicans. House Democrats are trying to pass the legislation.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., circulated a draft bill this year that would decriminalize marijuana, called the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act, but he acknowledged he doesn't have the votes to get it passed. The legislation would need 60 votes to pass in the Senate, and a number of Republican and moderate Democratic senators have argued against quick action, urging further studies on the drug before it is decriminalized.