Federal marijuana legalization passes again: MORE Act explained

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Breaking news: The U.S. House of Representatives just passed the MORE Act, which would end the federal prohibition of marijuana, on a vote of 220 to 204.

What exactly does that mean? You have questions. We have answers.

No.

Why not?

The House of Representatives passed the MORE Act, which would end the federal prohibition of cannabis. But you know how Congress works. A bill doesn’t become law until both the House and Senate pass it, and the President signs it.

The MORE Act now goes to the Senate, where it faces…tough sledding.

The House passed the MORE Act previously, in late 2020, but the bill went nowhere in the U.S. Senate. When Congress adjourned at the end of 2020, all unpassed bills effectively died.

When the new Congress convened in early 2021, bills like the MORE Act had to be re-introduced all over again. That’s what happened. This new version of the MORE Act is nearly identical to the one that passed the House in late 2020.

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What would the MORE Act do, exactly?

If passed into law, the MORE Act would remove cannabis from the federal Controlled Substances list. It would also retroactively expunge individuals’ records for past offenses, put a 5% federal tax on marijuana and allocate revenue for small business and equity licenses.

Read the full text of the bill here. We have a longer explainer further below.

Related

The MORE Act Calls for Sweeping Changes in Federal Cannabis Law

Were there any significant changes made to the MORE Act today?

Yes. The House passed two relatively minor amendments to the MORE Act.

Rep Josh Gottheimer (D-NY) proposed the first amendment. It allocates $10 million to the National Highway Traffic Safety Association (NHTSA) to research the “technologies and methods that law enforcement may use to determine whether a driver is impaired by marijuana.” That amendment passed.

Rep. Conor Lamb (D-PA) proposed the second amendment. It requires Congress to enact a study on the “impact of the legalization of recreational cannabis by states on the workplace.” That amendment passed.

A third amendment, proposed by Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD), to review every security clearance denial since 1971 and retroactively remove cannabis use as a reason to deny or rescind a security clearance. That amendment did not pass.

Related

Leafly’s guide to marijuana legalization

Will the MORE Act pass in the Senate?

Possibly, but it’s not very likely. The MORE Act would likely need 60 votes to pass the Senate—all 50 Democrats and at least 10 Republicans.

Many experts do not expect it to pass in the Senate.

At a press conference following passage of the MORE Act, Representative Jerry Nadler (D-NY) vented his frustration with the Senate’s inaction on cannabis reform. “Sometimes I think we’d better off if we didn’t have the Senate,” he said.

How did my representative vote?

We got you covered. Check out this alphabetical list of Yeas and Nays compiled by the Clerk of the House.

Do voters really want legalization?

Reader, please.

According to the latest Gallup poll, 68% of Americans support cannabis legalization. To date, 18 states have legalized cannabis for adults 21 and over, and 38 states have legalized medical cannabis.

Legalization is more popular than baseball, and popularity polls have found that kittens, with a favorability rating of 76%, are within reach.

According to Pew Research: “Republicans are more wary than Democrats about legalizing marijuana for recreational use: 47% of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents favor legalizing marijuana for both medical and recreational use, while an additional 40% say it should only be legal for medical use.”

Weed can defy red vs blue politics. Here’s a list of the Republicans and Democrats who voted opposite their parties in the House, courtesy of Politico’s Natalie Fertig.

Congressman Steve Cohen (D-TN), a senior member of the Judiciary Committee, called Congressional inaction on cannabis policy ‘cultural lag.’ Congress needs to get moving, he said.

“It’s no secret that the war on drugs failed…Marijuana is less dangerous than alcohol…Congress has been out of step on this issue. It’s called ‘cultural lag.’ We’re finally coming around to re-scheduling it from Schedule 1, where it’s in a class with heroin and methamphetamines, which is absurd…We must re-schedule marijuana. We must decriminalize it at the federal level. Now is the time to do some remedies to federal marijuana laws. This is an historic time. Let’s move forward and do the right thing.”

Would legalization cost taxpayers money?

Quite the opposite.

A Congressional Budget Office analysis estimates the MORE Act would generate $8.1 billion in tax revenue in ten years and reduce federal prison costs by $800 million over nine years.

Rep. Blumenauer wearing glasses and red bow tie and suit speaks from his congressional office
You’ve got to celebrate your victories: Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) celebrates the passage of the MORE Act during a Zoom press conference.

So what’s up with the Senate?

House members are, in general, younger and much more comfortable with cannabis legalization. Because they represent smaller districts and face re-election every two years, they’re closer to their constituents. And those constituents—nearly everywhere—favor the full legalization of marijuana for all adults.

Senators are, by contrast, older and stodgier and far less beholden to voters. They face re-election only once every six years. They are, in general, far less comfortable with the idea of voting in favor of legalization. Marijuana has been framed as a dangerous scourge for most of their lives. (Some senators are actually older than prohibition, which began in 1937.)

Related

Chuck Schumer unveils marijuana bill that would end federal prohibition, finally

More on what the MORE Act would do

Justin Strekal, one of the smartest legalization advocates we know, posted this shorthand guide to the MORE Act on Medium, and we’re just going to quote it in full:

The MORE Act would make several other important changes to federal marijuana policy, including:

  • Facilitating the expungement of low-level, federal marijuana convictions, and incentivizing state and local governments to take similar actions;
  • Creating pathways for ownership opportunities in the emerging regulated industry as well as other sectors of the economy for local and diversely-reflective entrepreneurs who have been impacted under prohibition through the Small Business Administration grant eligibility;
  • Allowing veterans, for the first time, to obtain medical cannabis recommendations from their VA doctors in states that have an established medical cannabis program;
  • Removing the threat of deportation for immigrants accused of minor marijuana infractions or who are gainfully employed in the state-legal cannabis industry;
  • Providing critical reinvestment grant opportunities for communities that have suffered disproportionate rates of marijuana-related enforcement actions;
  • Protecting and respecting the basic rights and civil liberties of consumers under federal law when it comes to public benefits.

Strekal is NORML’s former national political director, and is now the leader of The BOWL Pac, an organization focused on passing legalization and unseating prohibitionists in Congress.

How did opponents argue against legalization?

By using the same old debunked arguments that have been in play since the early 1900s.

Here’s Rep. Buddy Carter (R-GA) rolling out the old and long-disproven “gateway drug” theory.

What’s next for federal reform?

Here’s one scenario. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), along with Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) have already introduced their own version of the MORE Act in the Senate, which is called the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act. It’s not exactly the MORE Act, but it’s very similar.

Because it’s a bill created by the Senate Majority Leader, and this is politics, Schumer’s bill is the likely vehicle for legalization in the Senate. If Schumer can muster the votes to pass it, House and Senate leaders would conference to reconcile the two bills.

And then President Joe Biden, who is no fan of cannabis legalization and in fact wrote some of the nation’s most draconian drug laws back in the 1990s, would have to sign the bill for it to become law.

Related

Murder changed my mind: Pass the SAFE Banking Act now

Republican legalization advocates vote against MORE

Rep. Nancy Mace (R-SC), the leading Republican advocate for cannabis legalization, voted against the MORE Act. Late last year Mace introduced her own legalization bill, the States Reform Act.

Mace’s bill isn’t all that different from the MORE Act, except it has a lower 3% federal tax and no social equity provisions.

Mace told Politico reporter Natalie Fertig earlier this week that, in Fertig’s words, “the social equity programs and the high tax rate are dealbreakers. [Mace] wishes the bill left more things up to states.”

Meanwhile, Rep. Dave Joyce (R-OH), the former prosecutor who’s also a leading Republican advocate for legalization, voted against the MORE Act based on its lack of federal safety rules on cannabis.

Joyce wrote recently in Marijuana Moment op-ed that he feels the MORE Act has been surpassed by “a number of more targeted, bipartisan cannabis reform proposals.” Added Joyce: “By forsaking these bills for an all-or-nothing approach, congressional leadership is perpetuating federal cannabis prohibition and allowing the unsustainable patchwork of federal and state cannabis laws to fester.”

Related

Here’s what’s in the new Republican marijuana legalization bill

What else is in play?

Advocates of reform also have their eyes on the SAFE Banking Act, which would allow cannabis businesses to utilize bank services. Democrats have declined to move the bill forward without a concurrent legalization bill like the MORE Act.

Lawmakers in the House could also advance the States Reform Act, introduced by Rep. Nancy Mace (R-SC). That bill would decriminalize cannabis federally, and give individual states full control over their respective cannabis industries.

Bruce Barcott, David Downs, and Max Savage Levenson's Bio Image

Bruce Barcott, David Downs, and Max Savage Levenson

Bruce Barcott is Leafly’s deputy editor and the author of ‘Weed the People: The Future of Legal Marijuana in America.’ David Downs is Leafly’s California bureau chief and the author of ‘Beyond Buds’ and ‘The Medical Marijuana Guidebook.’ Leafly contributor Max Savage Levenson also writes about music for Pitchfork and Bandcamp.

View Bruce Barcott, David Downs, and Max Savage Levenson’s articles





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