This December the United States House of Representatives made history by voting for the first time on cannabis decriminalization. The Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act would effectively remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act (CSA). This also marked the first time that cannabis reform policy has seen a floor vote. The bill passed with a vote of 228 to 164, with a mostly Democratic approval. It’s not legalization, but federal cannabis decriminalization is a huge step in the right direction for the United States.
The House Recently Passed a Historic Federal Cannabis Decriminalization Bill
The MORE Act is the first piece of cannabis legislation to reach a floor vote. Many federal bills have been proposed, but this is the first to get serious consideration. Unlike some bills, which aimed to fully legalize cannabis at a federal level, the MORE Act is focused on decriminalization.
“This long-overdue legislation would reverse the failed policy of criminalizing marijuana on the federal level and would take steps to address the heavy toll this policy has taken across the country, particularly on communities of color,” Representative Jerry Nadler (D-NY) said according to USA Today.
Passing this legislation would allow states to continue to legalize and regulate cannabis as they see fit. For many states where legislature has debated legalization this may be all they are waiting on – the end of a long-standing conflict between state and federal law.
Appropriately named, the MORE Act is also likely to open other opportunities not cited in the bill – such as banking or federal small business loans – that are otherwise unavailable to the industry as it stands now.
The MORE Act Would Expunge Unnecessary Criminal Records
The bill, if passed by the Senate, would not only remove cannabis from the CSA, but it would also expunge millions of marijuana-related criminal records. It would also require that sentencing review hearings be conducted for those currently serving or awaiting sentencing for cannabis related crimes.
“Millions of Americans’ lives have been upended as a result of convictions for possessing small amounts of marijuana, and the racial disparities in conviction rates for those offenses are as shocking as they are unjust,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, a Maryland Democrat, said in a statement after the vote, according to CNN. “That’s why we passed the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act today.”
Another way the bill aims to reverse some of the damages done by cannabis prohibition is by imposing a 5 percent federal sales tax on marijuana products. This tax would go toward job training, legal aid, and substance abuse treatments for those impacted by the War on Drugs. It would also provide funding for small business loans and allow access to marijuana licensing and employment for those at an economic disadvantage.
The Senate Doesn’t Share the Urgency of Passing Cannabis Policy Reform
Now that the House has voted the legislation is passed over to the Senate where it can be amended prior to being voted on. If changes are made in the Senate, both parties would have to agree on the changes before the bill could move on to await signature of the President. So far, the incoming Biden Administration is expected to be in favor of federal decriminalization, if the bill makes it that far.
Unfortunately, the Republican-controlled Senate is unlikely to take up the legislation any time soon from the sound of things. For example, Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell criticized the house for moving forward on the bill instead of passing additional COVID-19 stimulus bills the parties had previously agreed on.
“The House of Representatives is spending this week on pressing issues like marijuana. You know, serious and important legislation befitting this national crisis,” McConnell said sarcastically on the Senate floor, per CNN.
What the Senate may fail to realize however, is that decriminalizing cannabis and legitimizing state industries on a federal level could be an economy boost. With medical – and in some states recreational – cannabis being considered essential even amid pandemic lockdowns, now seems like an ideal time to be passing federal cannabis reform.
However, the GOP has tended to shy away from the shift in policy that has taken hold across the country on a state level. This doesn’t seem to be the case with voters the way it is in Congress however, as even conservative states like South Dakota make the shift to a more sensible marijuana policy.
Leafwell Will Keep You Informed on the MORE Act as the Situation Evolves
Chances are, we won’t see another vote on this legislation any time soon – certainly not before the end of 2020. The Senate can stall the bill, and with COVID they can probably do so for a while. But in the end, what the American people want to see on this issue is change and it will not go unnoticed if this historic bill dies here. Leafwell will continue to monitor this important piece of legislation as we move into the 2021 legislative session.
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