House Democrats passed a bill to legalize cannabis on a federal level Friday. It’s the first time either chamber of Congress has voted on the matter.
The MORE Act, or the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment, and Expungement Act, says cannabis should no longer be considered a schedule one drug, along with the likes of heroin and ecstasy.
The act requires cannabis convictions be reassessed, that the government invest in services for people caught in the “War on Drugs,” and it allows cannabis companies to get funding through the Small Business Administration.
The act also imposes a five percent tax on cannabis, and directs the Government Accountability Office to study the societal impact of legalization.
States would still have to pass their own cannabis regulations.
“We’re here because we have failed three generations of Black and Brown young people, whose lives can be ruined, or lost, by selective enforcement of these laws,” said Portland Democrat Earl Blumenauer, co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus. “This legislation will end that disaster.”
“It’s time for Congress to step up and do its part. We need to catch up with the rest of the American people.”
Cannabis businesses are pleased with the act. “This vote stands as a rebuke of failed and harmful prohibition policies, and represents a growing understanding of their racially and economically disparate impacts,” said Aaron Smith, chief executive officer of the National Cannabis Industry Association.
“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.”
Legal cannabis sales totaled $9.5 billion in 2017 and are projected to reach $23 billion by 2022.
The bill has collected dust since passing out of the House Judiciary Committee a year ago. But Friday’s vote allows Democrats to say they kept a promise to vote on cannabis legalization this session.
There is stiff opposition to the MORE Act. Dr. Kevin Sabet, former drug policy advisor for Presidents Clinton, Bush and Obama, called it a smokescreen for big tobacco and investors. “As we have seen in state after state, marijuana commercialization does not lead to any tangible benefit for disadvantaged communities,” said Sabet.
“Legalization simply results in rich, overwhelmingly white men getting richer while using predatory marketing tactics to expand substance abuse in the communities that were somehow supposed to benefit.”
“That this bill, at this time, jumps to the head of the legislative line is a sad testament priorities of House leadership.”
While the vote is a first, its future is far from sure. It still has to pass the Senate, which is controlled by Republicans who are largely opposed to legalization. However, control of the Senate hangs in the balance with a runoff for two Georgia seats this January.
President-elect Joe Biden campaigned on cannabis decriminalization this election.