With the MORE Act, federal cannabis effort reaches an early milestone.
A bill to legalize cannabis at the federal level made it through and early hurdle September 30, gaining approval from the House Judiciary Committee.
The Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act would:
remove cannabis from the list of federally controlled substances
use funds from a federal tax on marijuana sales to minimize barriers for communities of color to join the burgeoning cannabis market
expunge federal marijuana convictions and arrests
The proposed legislation passed 26 to 15, with every Democrat in the committee voting for it along with two Republicans.
‘Overdue and Historic Legislation’
The bill’s sponsor is Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), who chairs the House Judiciary Committee. In an opening statement, Nadler acknowledged the negative impacts of the failed war on drugs.
"This long overdue and historic legislation would reverse failed federal policies criminalizing marijuana,” he said. “It would also take steps to address the heavy toll this policy has taken across the country, particularly among communities of color.
"I have long believed that the criminalization of marijuana has been a mistake. The racially disparate enforcement of marijuana laws has only made it worse, with serious consequences, particularly for communities of color.”
Marijuana Stimulus Bill?
One point of contention for Republicans was the bill’s provision for an Opportunity Trust Fund within the Treasury Department. This would use cannabis taxes to fund federal programs to support communities adversely impacted by the war on drugs. These programs would provide:
substance use disorder services
loans to small businesses owned by socially and economically disadvantaged individuals.
Ranking Member of the Judiciary Committee Jim Jordan (R-OH) criticized the MORE Act, saying it had no limits on potency or requirements to identify potency, and no age-related requirement for use. He described the bill’s measures to create racial equity as a “stimulus program for the marijuana industry,” and shamed Democrats for making the bill a priority in the Legislature, while crime is on the rise and thousands of Haitians are seeking asylum at the border.
Criminal Justice Reform
Rebutting the idea that the bill shouldn’t be a priority right now, Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) emphasized its impacts on criminal justice reform.
“This is an this is an important criminal justice reform bill,” she said. “In fact, it consolidates the discussions that we’ve had about the over incarceration of individuals who were addicted or caught up in the cycle of drugs, many of them people of color in inner city neighborhoods. […] One of the things that is so important is it puts the federal government at the head of real policy as opposed to the tail.”
Jackson added: “This does not mean that marijuana would now be legal in the entire United States. It will simply remove the federal government from the business of prosecuting marijuana cases, and should leave the issue of legality to the individual states.”
“This does not mean that marijuana would now be legal in the entire United States. It will simply remove the federal government from the business of prosecuting marijuana cases, and should leave the issue of legality to the individual states.”
— Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX)
One of two Republicans supporting the bill, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) announced that drugs had won the war on drugs.
“[T]he federal government has screwed up marijuana policy in this country for a generation,” he said. “We lied to people about the effects of marijuana, and then we used marijuana as a cudgel to incarcerate just wide swaths of communities, and particularly in African-American communities. […] The war on drugs, much like many of our forever wars, has been a failure. If there’s been a war on drugs, drugs have won that war.”
In spite of his support, Gaetz critiqued elements of the bill, noting that in states that only allow medical cannabis use a federal tax would be out of place.
“Nowhere in America today do we tax medicine,” he said.
He also voiced skepticism that the Senate would pass the MORE Act, and suggested that the House initiate momentum with the STATES Act, which would recognize states’ laws governing cannabis.
“If there’s been a war on drugs, drugs have won that war.”
— Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL)
Does The MORE Act Have a Chance?
Yes, the bill has a chance. But it’s far from a sure bet. An earlier version of the bill passed the House in December 2020, but failed to pass the Republican-controlled Senate. With Democrats now in narrow control of the Senate, the bill’s sponsors appear ready to test whether MORE can win approval. If that happens, there is some question over whether the president would sign the legislation. While President Joe Biden has expressed interest in decriminalizing possession, he’s also voiced hesitancy to approve federal cannabis legalization for recreational adult use.