The US House of Representatives is edging toward a floor vote in September on a bill to end federal marijuana prohibition, according to sources familiar with the House leadership’s plans.
The bill in question is the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, which was first introduced last year by Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY). The MORE Act has since been approved by Nadler’s panel and is currently under deliberation in several other House committees.
The COVID-19 pandemic has put much legislative activity on hold but according to an aide of a top House committee chair, the leadership of the lower chamber believe marijuana legalization could rejuvenate America’s ailing economy by creating jobs and new sources of tax revenues. The MORE Act would deschedule cannabis at the federal level, automatically expunge the records of individuals with prior marijuana convictions and set a 5 percent sales tax to be used for investments in communities most harmed by the War on Drugs.
Further provisions in the bill would establish a framework for resentencing those currently in prison for cannabis offenses, protect immigrants from denial of citizenship on the basis of marijuana use or employment in the cannabis industry, and ensure federal agencies cannot deny public benefits, services or security clearances for marijuana-related reasons.
To make it to the floor for a full vote in September, the MORE Act needs to first clear the other committees either by majority approval or through the chair waiving the committee’s jurisdiction over the bill. Amid the ongoing fallout from the coronavirus outbreak as well as the upcoming August recess, there isn’t a great deal of time to hold a vote this legislative session, meaning the House leadership will have to go public with their plans sooner rather than later.
“Looking at the legislative calendar, realistically we have limited time to get this on the House floor for a vote before time runs out and Congress has to turn their attention elsewhere,” said Queen Adesuyi, policy manager for the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA).
The DPA, along with organizations such as the ACLU, Center for American Progress and Human Rights Watch is part of the Marijuana Justice Coalition which submitted a letter to Congress recently urging action on the MORE Act to help stave off the worst effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Looking towards long-term economic recovery, we must remove barriers to employment for those who have lost jobs, create new businesses and employment opportunities to help replace those that have disappeared and that will not be coming back, and to raise billions of dollars in new tax revenue to off-set the devastating economic losses to state and local governments,” the letter reads.
Adesuyi said congressional lawmakers need to build on the passage of the marijuana banking legislation passed by the House last year – and more recently included in coronavirus stimulus legislation – to ensure those most harmed by cannabis prohibition are not left behind.
“This Congress, the House made history when it passed an industry-led marijuana bill,” Adesuyi said. “It would be shameful for them, as one of the most progressive group of electeds in recent memory, to end the year without addressing victims of the war on drugs or centering those most adversely impacted by marijuana’s criminalization. We need the MORE Act now.”
Even if the bill makes it to the floor of the House and is approved, it still needs to pass the Republican-controlled Senate. While Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) supports hemp’s legalization, he remains publicly opposed to any further cannabis reform at the federal level. The marijuana banking legislation has languished in the Senate since its passage through the House and has proved to be a sticking point for Republicans after its provisions were included and passed by the lower chamber in the latest coronavirus relief stimulus package.
A lot remains to be seen but a successful vote for the MORE Act would certainly put the presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden in a bind with election day looming given his continued opposition to full cannabis legalization.