Something huge for the cannabis industry was planned to happen in September 2020: The U.S. House of Representatives planned to vote on HR 3884, the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act. The goal behind this proposed federal marijuana legalization legislation is to remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act, ratify criminal and social justice reforms related to cannabis, and tax cannabis products at 5% to fund said reforms. As election season rushed forward, the vote has not yet occurred. The most recent delay comes from a historically surprising source: House Democrats.
Delays for the Pandemic
As reported on September 18th, House Democrats committed to delaying their vote on the MORE Act. The reasoning for this stay is less than surprising: it was to focus attention on the coronavirus pandemic relief bill. A vote for the MORE Act retains a date with 2020 however, as House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (MD) specified the chamber would bring a vote on the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act by the end of the year: “The MORE Act remains a critical component of House Democrats’ plan for addressing systemic racism and advancing criminal justice reform. Right now, the House is focused relentlessly on securing agreement to stave off a damaging government shutdown and continuing to do its job addressing the COVID-19 pandemic.” Currently, Senate leaders are on break until Nov. 9.
Recently, the MORE Act has added to its co-sponsors, meaning it will likely have enough support to pass the House floor with a bipartisan majority vote. NORML Political Director Justin Strekal said: “This delay by the House does not change the fact that the overwhelming majority of voters support ending the federal prohibition of cannabis, including majorities of Democrats, Independents and Republicans. This delay does not change the fact that 33 states and the District of Columbia regulate the production and distribution of medical cannabis in a manner that is inconsistent with federal policy, and that one-out-of-four Americans now reside in jurisdictions where adult-use is legal under state law. This delay does not change the fact that voters in several states, including key electoral battleground states for both control of the Presidency and the Senate, will be passing similar state-level [cannabis] measures on Election Day.” Although Democratic presidential hopeful Joe Biden does not support full marijuana legalization, his running mate, Kamala Harris, is the lead Senate sponsor of the MORE Act.
Expansion with Federal Marijuana Legalization
While America waits for legislative business to resume, below is further information regarding the proposal. In addition to legalizing cannabis, expunging related records and imposing a 5% federal tax, the MORE Act would also generate a way of re-sentencing for persons incarcerated for cannabis offenses, open pathways to ownership opportunities for local and minority entrepreneurs, allow veterans to obtain medical cannabis recommendations from their VA doctors, thwart federal agencies from denying public benefits or security clearances to citizens because of use, and safeguard immigrants from being denied citizenship over marijuana charges.
Major drug policy and civil rights organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union, NAACP, Human Rights Watch and Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) await the pending floor vote. “We are ecstatic to see congressional leadership take the next steps to vote on the MORE Act next month,” Queen Adesuyi, policy manager for DPA, said in a recent interview. “Advancing this bill meets the principles of this political moment where millions of Americans are demanding changes to the status quo. House Democrats have the incredible opportunity to move a bill that enjoys bipartisan support while responding to the calls for justice reform and racial justice reverberating across the country.”
If the MORE Act passes for federal marijuana legalization, state lawmakers must continue to pass their own legislation to legalize marijuana, and marijuana sales, in their specific state. The measure faces strong opposition in the Republican-led Senate. Although Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is a steadfast advocate for hemp, he is consistently opposed to broader cannabis reform. A more enticing alternative to the MORE Act may be the Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States (STATES) Act, which is sponsored by Sens. Cory Gardner (R-CO) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA); it more simply allows states to set their own marijuana policies without concern of federal intervention or wait for federal marijuana legalization. This proposal has received past support from President Trump.
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