House Committee Approves the MORE Act to Legalize Cannabis

Members of a House of Representatives legislative committee voted on Thursday to advance a bill that would legalize marijuana at the federal level and allow states to set their own cannabis policies. The legislation, known as the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, was approved by the House Judiciary Committee by a vote of 26 to 15 following several attempts to amend the bill.

Under the MORE Act, cannabis would be removed from the list of drugs regulated by the Controlled Substances Act, criminal penalties for federal cannabis offenses would be eliminated, and past federal cannabis convictions would be expunged. The bill, H.R. 3617, also establishes a tax on retail cannabis sales, with revenue raised by the tax invested in communities that were harmed under federal marijuana prohibition policies.

In his opening remarks on Thursday, Democratic committee chair Rep. Jerrold Nadler of New York said that the “long overdue and historic legislation would reverse failed federal policies criminalizing marijuana.”

“It would also take steps to address the heavy toll this policy has taken across the country, particularly among communities of color,” he continued. “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.”

The MORE Act Includes Social Equity Provisions

To address the harms caused by marijuana prohibition, an Opportunity Trust Fund created by the MORE Act would provide job training, re-entry services for formerly incarcerated individuals, and health education programs for communities impacted by the War on Drugs. The bill also establishes an Office of Cannabis Justice to implement the social equity provisions of the bill, encourage cannabis research, and ensure that federal benefits and services are not denied cannabis users. The Small Business Association would be responsible for creating a Cannabis Restorative Opportunity Program to develop cannabis licensing programs that limit barriers to participation in the industry.

After Thursday’s vote, National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) political director Justin Strekal called on Democratic leaders to swiftly bring the MORE Act up for a vote by the full House of Representatives.

“Never before has public support from every corner of the political spectrum been so aligned as to demand that Congress take action to end the shameful experiment with marijuana prohibition,” Strekal said in a press release from the reform group. “The continued criminalization of marijuana by the federal government is an affront to our professed ideals of freedom, liberty, and justice. By advancing the MORE Act, the House will demonstrate that the majority of our political leaders are ready to correct this injustice and enact cannabis policy reform that undoes the harms that have been inflicted upon millions of otherwise law-abiding citizens.”

Bill Approved By Bipartisan Vote

The vote to advance the MORE Act in the Judiciary Committee was 26 to 15, receiving support from 2 Republicans and all 24 Democrats on the panel while the remaining 15 Republicans voted against the legislation. The vote followed several attempts to amend the proposal, including one from Republican Rep. Thomas Massie that would have removed taxation and social equity grants from the cannabis legalization proposal. Another failed amendment would have denied justice reform grants to those convicted of rioting, looting, or destruction of property.

Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida, a cosponsor of the legislation, was one of the two Republicans on the Judiciary Committee to vote for the bill, although he also expressed reservations over the tax provisions in the measure.

“I am a proud co-sponsor of the MORE Act because the federal government has screwed up marijuana policy in this country for a generation,” Gaetz said. “We lied to people about the effects of marijuana. And then we used marijuana as a cudgel to incarcerate just wide swathes of communities, and particularly in African American communities.”

Gaetz, however, said that he believes the MORE Act has little chance of passage in the U.S. Senate and suggested lawmakers draft more modest cannabis legislation. A separate measure that would allow cannabis businesses in states with legal marijuana to access financial services, the SAFE Banking Act, was approved by the full House of Representatives on Sept. 23 as part of defense spending authorization bill.

But some Democratic senators including Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey and Oregon’s Sen. Ron Wyden have expressed reservations over passing a bill to protect the financial interests of cannabis businesses before broader reform such as the MORE Act is signed into law. In a podcast released on Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer told Drug Policy Alliance founder that he had reached an agreement with his colleagues to not let banking legislation advance before wider cannabis legalization.

“Senators Booker, Wyden and I have come to agreement that if we let [the banking bill] out, it’ll make it much harder and take longer to pass comprehensive reform,” Schumer said. “We certainly want the provisions, similar to the SAFE Banking Act, in our bill. But to get more moderate people—to get some Republicans, to get the financial services industry—behind a comprehensive bill is the way to go. It’s the right thing to do.”

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