Last Friday, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the MORE Act, a Dem-sponsored bill to federally legalize cannabis. The first and only time the bill made it this far was in 2020, after which it stalled in the Senate. Yet again, it is expected that the bill will face a challenging course in the Senate this time around.
The Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act was introduced by House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler. “For far too long, we have treated cannabis as a criminal justice problem, instead of as a matter of personal choice and public health,” Nadler explained. The legislation would remove cannabis from the list of federally controlled substances and promote social equity in the industry. However, it would not require states to legalize cannabis and would maintain a level of regulatory discretion up to states. Lawmakers approved the measure in a 220-204 vote, with three Republicans joining all but two Democrats in support.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said prior to the vote that the legislation would offer “justice for those harmed by the brutal, unfair consequences of criminalization. This landmark legislation is one of the most important criminal justice reform bills in recent history.” Rep. Jim Jordan, however, argued that Democrats are moving to legalize cannabis at this time because they “can’t deal with the real problems facing the American people” such as “the inflation problem, the energy problem, the illegal immigration problem on our southern border.”
Now, the MORE Act will need to gain 60 votes in the Senate before requiring President Joe Biden’s signature. With the current Senate consisting of 50 Republicans (against 48 Democrats and 2 Independents), that is going to be the first hurdle to cross. Moreover, President Biden’s stance on the matter is not quite clear yet. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters that Biden agrees that the current cannabis laws are not working and that they should rethink their approach in the industry. In addition, at a 2019 presidential debate, Biden said that he wanted to release everyone who was in prison for cannabis, thus expressing a degree of social equity support. However, he does not seem to be a proponent of adult-use cannabis. His past claims have not yet been fulfilled and he even fired at least five White House staffers admitting to past cannabis use last year. Overall, while the House approval is already a major milestone, the bill is not quite at the end of its journey yet.
What is the MORE Act?
The MORE Act decriminalizes cannabis. Specifically, it removes cannabis from the list of scheduled substances under the Controlled Substances Act and eliminates criminal penalties for an individual who manufactures, distributes, or possesses cannabis. The bill also makes other changes, including the following:
- replaces statutory references to marijuana and marihuana with cannabis,
- requires the Bureau of Labor Statistics to regularly publish demographic data on cannabis business owners and employees,
- establishes a trust fund to support various programs and services for individuals and businesses in communities impacted by the war on drugs,
- imposes an excise tax on cannabis products produced in or imported into the United States and an occupational tax on cannabis production facilities and export warehouses,
- makes Small Business Administration loans and services available to entities that are cannabis-related legitimate businesses or service providers,
- prohibits the denial of federal public benefits to a person on the basis of certain cannabis-related conduct or convictions,
- prohibits the denial of benefits and protections under immigration laws on the basis of a cannabis-related event (e.g., conduct or a conviction),
- establishes a process to expunge convictions and conduct sentencing review hearings related to federal cannabis offenses, and
- directs the Government Accountability Office to study the societal impact of cannabis legalization.