Congress Has Another Chance to Decriminalize Cannabis

Congress Has Another Chance to Decriminalize Cannabis

The U.S. House of Representatives narrowly passed H.R. 3617, commonly known as the MORE Act or Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Engagement Act, with 220 members voting in favor of and 204 voting against the bill. Votes largely fell along party lines, with 217 out of 220 Democrats voting “Yea” and 202 out of 209 Republicans voting “Nay.”

The bill now has an opportunity to head to the Senate, where a group of Democrats, including Cory Booker and Majority Leader Charles Schumer, says they will release a draft by the end of April. If passed, the legislation would head to the White House for President Biden’s signature or veto.

A Second Round for the MORE Act

This isn’t the first time the House has passed the MORE Act. Representative Jerry Nadler, a Democrat from New York, originally introduced the bill in 2019. Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) sponsored a Senate version of the bill, but it died in the committee without getting a vote. Harris now serves as Vice President of the United States.

Advocates for cannabis decriminalization are hopeful that the resolution will have a better chance of getting a vote in the Senate, which now has a Democratic majority. Still, passing the bill into law would require a bipartisan effort. So far, the Senate has not voted on a decriminalization bill. Even a failed attempt would mark an historic event in the pursuit of cannabis legalization in the United States.

Other Changes the MORE Act Could Make

In addition to decriminalizing cannabis at the federal level, the current version of the MORE Act would:

  • Change references to “marijuana” and “marihuana” with “cannabis.”
  • Require the Bureau of Labor Statistics to publish demographic data about cannabis business owners and employees.
  • Establish a fund to support victims of the war on drugs.
  • Make loans and services from the Small Business Administration available to businesses in the cannabis industry.
  • Create a formal process for convicts of cannabis laws to expunge charges and convictions from their records.
  • Direct the Government Accountability Office to study how cannabis legalization affects society.
  • Add a federal tax to certain cannabis products.

Does the MORE Act Have a Chance?

The MORE Act seems to have a better chance of becoming law than it has in previous years. Still, it faces a narrow path to success. The vast majority of Republican legislatures will not vote for cannabis decriminalization or legalization. This trend runs counter to what their constituents want, though.

According to the Pew Research Center, 91% of Americans support recreational or medical cannabis legalization (31% support medical, with 60% supporting medical and recreational). Even among survey respondents who identify as Republican or leaning Republican, the majority favor medical cannabis legalization. Nearly half (47%) say they support medical and recreational cannabis legalization, while 40% support medical use only.

Passing the Senate wouldn’t guarantee cannabis decriminalization. President Biden would need to sign the bill into law. While the White House has shown interest in revising cannabis laws, it has not directly supported the MORE Act. Also, Biden was one of the war on drugs’ major architects while serving as a senator during the 1980s and ’90s. It’s uncertain whether he would approve of the bill, even with Vice President Harris encouraging him to do so.

A presidential veto would send the bill back to the House and Senate, where it would need a two-thirds vote from both chambers. That’s nearly impossible considering that the House could barely pass H.R. 3617. Doing so would require about half of Republicans (who recently voted against the bill) to change their minds and vote “Yea.”

April 3, 2022Comments Off

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