house historic vote decriminalization marijuana

The US House of Representatives will hold a vote this month on a bill to remove marijuana from the list of federally controlled substances. This will mark the first time a congressional chamber has voted on a measure to end federal cannabis prohibition.

The news follows rumors of an imminent floor vote but confirmation comes courtesy of an email from Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-SC) to House members informing them a vote on the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act is “expected” sometime during the “September work period.”

The MORE Act would deschedule marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act, meaning the plant would no longer be federally prohibited. States could then decide whether or not to legalize the commercial cultivation and sale of the plant locally without the possibility of federal interference.

Aside from descheduling marijuana, the MORE Act would expunge cannabis-related criminal records and set a five percent tax on sales, with those revenues earmarked for communities most harmed by the war on drugs. Individuals currently serving time for marijuana offenses would be resentenced. It also contains provisions to ensure immigrants are not denied US citizenship for marijuana-related reasons, while federal agencies would be prohibited from denying benefits or security clearances to individuals on the basis of marijuana use.

“Passage of the MORE Act is essential in order to truly right the wrongs of federal marijuana criminalization, and to once and for all allow the majority of states that have legalized cannabis for either medical or adult-use to embrace these policies free from the threat of undue federal prosecution or interference,” NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano said.

The MORE Act was introduced to the House by Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) last year. Rep. Nadler also sits as the Chair of the House Judiciary Committee which voted in favor of the bill – the first time a piece of marijuana legislation received congressional committee approval.

The MORE Act was introduced to the Senate by Sen. Kamala Harris, who recently accepted Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s offer to be his running mate. However, in the pair’s first joint interview she emphasized a Biden-Harris administration would pursue marijuana decriminalization, not legalization. Biden remains steadfastly opposed to legalizing marijuana.

Even if the measure is passed by the House, which looks likely, it will probably have a hard time gaining approval in the Republican-controlled Senate where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) appears to only be interested in marijuana reform so long as it benefits hemp farmers. It’s possible a House vote on the MORE Act may be a move to force the Senate into action on other cannabis-related legislation, such as the Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States (STATES) Act and the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act. Both have yet to get a hearing in the Senate this session.

At the very least, as NORML’s Armentano notes, a congressional vote on marijuana legalization will force lawmakers to make clear exactly where they stand on the issue.

“A House floor vote will put our federal lawmakers on record,” Armentano said. “We will know who stands with the majority of Americans in supporting an end to the failed federal policy of marijuana prohibition, and equally importantly, we will know who in Congress wishes to continue to threaten the freedom and liberty of the millions of Americans who reside in states that have enacted common-sense alternatives to cannabis criminalization.”

A date hasn’t yet been set for the House vote on the MORE Act, but according to Politico reporter Natalie Fertig it looks like it will be the week beginning September 21.

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