The United States House of Representatives voted 228-164 in favor of the MORE Act, which would decriminalize cannabis on the federal level.
The Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act would repair the social and personal harms caused by federal cannabis prohibition enforcement.
“The symbolic and historical importance of the MORE Act passing in the House cannot be overstated,” said Aaron Smith, co-founder, and chief executive officer of the National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA).
“This vote marks the first time in 50 years that a chamber of Congress has ever revisited the classification of cannabis as a federally prohibited substance and sought to close the rapidly widening chasm between state and federal marijuana policies,” said NORML Political Director Justin Strekal.
What the MORE Act Does
If signed into law, the MORE Act would remove from the Controlled Substance Act (CSA), where it is listed as a Schedule I narcotic with no medicinal value and said to be highly addictive, neither of which is true.
“This vote stands as a rebuke of failed and harmful prohibition policies and represents a growing understanding of their racially and economically disparate impacts,” Smith said.
There has been gradual movement on the MORE Act for some time. It passed the House Rules Committee on Wednesday, where it needed to pass before the House floor debate, and the subsequent vote could begin. It passed the House Judiciary Committee last year. Initially, a vote on the MORE Act was scheduled by the House in September before the election. However, it was moved to December.
What is notable is that it passed with Republican support.
“By establishing this new trajectory for federal policy, we expect that more states will revisit and amend the archaic criminalization of cannabis,” Strekal said.
Currently, 36 states and Washington, DC, regulate medical cannabis access. Of those, 15 states (including Jersey!) and Washington, DC have legalized adult-use cannabis.
While the MORE Act federally deschedules cannabis, it does not force states that have criminalized cannabis to amend their policies. That decision remains up to the states.
The MORE Act would facilitate the expungement of low-level, federal cannabis convictions and incentivize local governments to take similar actions. It would create pathways for ownership opportunities in the emerging regulated industry for local and diversely-reflective entrepreneurs through the Small Business Administration (SBA) grant eligibility.
Most notably, it would allow veterans to obtain medical cannabis recommendations from their VA doctors. It would also remove the threat of deportation for immigrants accused of minor cannabis infractions or gainfully employed in the state-legal cannabis industry.
According to the FBI, over 545,000 Americans were arrested for cannabis-related crimes in 2019. Over 90% of those arrested were charged with mere possession.
“Americans are increasingly ready to see cannabis legal for adults and sensibly regulated, which they showed through their representatives today and at the ballot box last month,” Smith said.
Since many Members of Congress did not want to be in the House chamber due to COVID, some members the voters of others. Thus, while a normal House vote takes about 15 minutes, the process lasted longer.
Partisanship Hindering Progress
While the Democratic-controlled House made history today, the Republican-controlled Senate is unlikely to pass the MORE Act.
There is a massive consensus that partisanship is holding up a third round of stimulus necessitated by COVID, which is desperately needed. So, the idea of the MORE Act passing the Senate is unlikely.
According to a recent ACLU report, Black Americans are four times more likely to be arrested for cannabis-related crimes than white Americans.
While campaigning, President-Elect Joe Biden called for the federal government to respect the rights of states that have voted to legalize and regulate cannabis access. As a Senator from California, Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris is the lead sponsor of the MORE Act’s Senate companion, S. 2227.
If a Democratic Senate were to take office in January, it would be more likely that the MORE Act becomes law. However, that will only happen if two Democrats Senators are elected in a runoff. There has not been a Democratic Senator from Georgia since the early years of the George W Bush administration.