After months of debate and partisan stalling, the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act of 2019 is set for a vote before a full chamber of Congress by the end of this week.
The bipartisan bill sponsored by Vice President-elect Kamala Harris has been touted as the most comprehensive federal cannabis reform legislation ever introduced and comes after over half a century of a failed “war on drugs” that fueled mass incarceration and other collateral damage for poor communities.
Late last week, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer advised the Congress that the MORE Act would be taken up by the House at some point between Wednesday evening and Friday.
In a September statement, Hoyer said that “The MORE Act remains a critical component of House Democrats’ plan for addressing systemic racism and advancing criminal justice reform.”
The bill has also gained the support of both liberals and libertarian-leaning conservatives who see the responsible use of cannabis as a personal right, as well as other Republicans who believe that it should be up to the states to regulate the dispensation of the plant without the interference or control of federal authorities.
The MORE Act comprehensively decriminalizes cannabis on a federal level by de-scheduling it from the Controlled Substances Act – where it is absurdly classified as a Schedule 1 drug “with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse” alongside heroin – and opens the door to states setting their own policies regulating the commerce and consumption of the plant.
A major highlight of the bill includes expungements of federal convictions for a number of federal convictions of low-level cannabis offenders, removing a barrier that bars access to voting, employment, professional licenses, housing, and even the ability to adopt a child. States would be incentivized to also follow suit.
The legislation would also provide for re-sentencing and block federal agencies from denying public benefits and security clearances over past cannabis convictions, while immigrants would no longer be denied citizenship over marijuana.
The MORE Act would also levy a 5% sales tax on commercial cannabis, and investing in grant programs addressing the needs of communities who have suffered serious negative impacts from the “War on Drugs,” especially those communities of color that have suffered disproportionate over-policing and mass incarceration.
Other provisions of the MORE Act include providing opportunities for cannabis businesses and expanding medical cannabis programs within the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
Cannabis has already been comprehensively legalized for recreational use in 15 states, and another 21 states have legalized medical use of marijuana through physician prescriptions.
A vote on the MORE Act had initially been set for September, but the vote was delayed as Congress wrangled over the passage of a coronavirus aid bill before moving on to addressing legalization.
The passage of the MORE Act could also be a boon for cash-strapped budgets across the country, which have seen tax revenue dry up amid the economic devastation wrought by the ongoing pandemic. The creation of a state-regulated cannabis market across the country is expected to create an up to $37 billion business within five years.
“Times have changed — marijuana should not be a crime,” Vice President-elect Harris said in a 2019 press release. “We need to start regulating marijuana, and expunge marijuana convictions from the records of millions of Americans so they can get on with their lives. As marijuana becomes legal across the country, we must make sure everyone — especially communities of color that have been disproportionately impacted by the War on Drugs — has a real opportunity to participate in this growing industry.”
However, while the House has offered clear bipartisan backing of the bill, GOP senators have been far less favorable toward the bill. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has blasted the bill on Twitter, remarking earlier this year on a study about diversity within the cannabis industry: “This is their effort at coronavirus relief?”
In 2018, a study from Pew Research Center found that cannabis-related offenses comprised 40% of all 1.65 million total drug arrests in the U.S. that year.
However, another study by Pew in late 2019 found that two-thirds of respondents across the country support the legalization of both medical and recreational marijuana.