It’s been a long time coming, right? This wait for federal cannabis reform. To show the tides are turning, the MORE Act, which would decriminalize cannabis, advanced one step further in Congress, bringing the US that much closer to a federal decriminalization policy. Can this bill go through?
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Cannabis in the US of A
Most of us know the basics, but before getting into the changes that are coming, it’s best to go over where we currently stand. Cannabis, in the United States is illegal for both medical and recreational purposes. Cannabis used to be an important aspect of American life, with hemp grown for all kinds of industrial uses, and cannabis being found in tons of medical (and non-medical) products. By the beginning of the 1900’s, the one thing cannabis wasn’t used for as much, was getting high.
Getting into the story of marijuana illegalization is certainly controversial. While some will stick to the government story line of cannabis being dangerous and in need of eradication, the other story involves different factors, like pharmaceutical companies that didn’t want to compete with a plant that could be easily grown by the people themselves, or a paper industry that saw hemp paper as competition, or a chemicals industry that felt likewise about it. When it comes to the illegalization of cannabis, these two stories run counter, but regardless of why it happened, this was the outcome.
In 1937 the Marihuana Tax Act was passed which placed massive taxes and restrictions on marijuana, making it nearly impossible to either research it, without express permission, or use personally. This wasn’t a full illegalization though. Different laws were passed over the years, leading to cannabis being put in Schedule I of the DEA’s Controlled Substances list, with the advent of the 1970 Controlled Substances Act. This made all uses of it illegal, with the plant seen as having no medicinal value, whatsoever.
Federal vs state
Obviously, this isn’t the end of the story, as cannabis is not regulated through the constitution, giving individual states the ability to create their own laws. Not only do many states have decriminalization measures, many stemming from the 70’s when cannabis was first completely illegalized, but the majority have comprehensive medical marijuana programs, and 18 (including two of the most populous states: New York and California), allow legal recreational use, essentially 100% going against the US government.
For those who have been paying attention over the years, this has caused many problems. In the earlier days of medicinal legalizations, the federal government still targeted users, often subjecting them to criminal punishments, though they weren’t breaking state laws. It’s even seen today still. The DEA just announced intentions to expand legal cannabis cultivation in the country, but with caveats that will likely keep former cannabis cultivators who have worked legally by their own state’s laws, from having a chance to participate, since the federal government still considers their past work as criminal activity.
For the most part these attacks have lightened over the years. I expect because there’ve been too many states going against federal regulation for the US to continue attempting to punish people. And with so many states essentially flipping the bird to federal law, it’s also not surprising that the federal government has been scrambling to change directions. This is likely to save face in this changing climate of weed acceptance, where the population has been steadily, and uncompromisingly, going in the opposite direction to federal mandate.
What is the MORE act, and will it decriminalize cannabis?
The first thing to understand about the MORE act (Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act), or HR 3617, is that it isn’t a legalization measure at all, but is meant to federally decriminalize cannabis. It would officially de-schedule cannabis out of Schedule I of the Controlled Substances list, and seemingly off of it entirely. This would officially take away criminal penalties for certain crimes. Under the law, individual states could continue to make their own decisions concerning full legalizations in their own domains.
The bill takes a complete 180 degree turn from current policy, essentially saying that cannabis is no longer dangerous, and that it has medical value. In fact, it’s practically a legalization. This is backed up by the fact that the bill would introduce a 5% tax on cannabis products. Usually when the government expects for something not to be sold, it doesn’t attach a tax to it. After all, it means the government fully accepts retail sales if its setting up a system to regulate taxes for it. So though this bill works to decriminalize cannabis, it also clearly promotes its legal sale (and therefore use) by way of setting a taxation amount.
The tax from the products would go to fund projects for criminal and social reform, and would eventually rise to 8% from 5%. Tax money would be distributed by a newly formed agency called the Office of Cannabis Justice, which would reside within the Department of Justice Office of Justice Programs. At least some of the money would be used for grants intended toward communities hard hit by the war on drugs.
Along with this, it would prevent benefits like public housing, or other federal benefits, to be denied to those who have been found guilty of cannabis crimes. It would also keep simple possession or use acts from causing an impact under immigration laws. The new law would do what most legalization bills do, it would expunge past convictions of those who have been found guilty of relevant cannabis crimes. This means, if a person served time for cannabis, or received any kind of relevant conviction, they will no longer have to state this, as it will no longer apply. Those currently under active convictions would be able to petition the courts for a resentencing.
Another aspect of the MORE act is that it would allow marijuana businesses to apply for, and receive, small business administration loans, as well as other banking services and insurance. These are things that have been repeatedly denied to cannabis companies due to federal regulation against the drug.
The MORE act was originally introduced in 2019, and it officially passed the US House of Representatives on December 4th, 2020. This is the first time a part of congress has approved a bill that’s meant to end cannabis prohibition laws. It didn’t have time to go through the Senate though, and therefore had to be reintroduced in 2021. In order to become law, it must pass a final vote in the House – again, as well as make it through a full Senate. The MORE Act has 76 co-sponsors, one of whom is republican.
MORE Act to decriminalize cannabis gets one step further
On September 30th, 2021, the House Judiciary Committee voted on the bill, and passed it by a vote of 26-15. The House Judiciary Committee is chaired by Jerrold Nadler, who is also a co-sponsor of the MORE Act. Though the vote went mainly by party lines with all 26 democrats voting in favor, they were joined by two republicans, while 15 voted no.
As stated before, this bill passed the House in 2020 in a vote of 228-165, but since the Senate never got to it, it couldn’t be passed fully. When a new congress took their seats in January, the whole process actually started from scratch with the reintroduction of the bill. This means that though the same bill was passed in the House already, it will need to repass it again to continue.
The House Judiciary Committee, upon passing the bill, referred the bill for a vote by the entire House once again. As it passed by large margins the last time, it is expected to do okay again, even with a different configuration of congressmen due to the results of the 2020 elections. The much bigger obstacle is for it to get through the Senate. Once it passes the House again, that conversation can begin.
Will the MORE Act to decriminalize cannabis pass?
This is an interesting question, and it can really go either way. It’s not shocking to understand that much of government is still going to be against such a decriminalization, especially those with more conservative mindsets. However, there’s a growing and undeniable reality about all this. Nearly every state has some sort of decriminalization, medical, or recreational policy, even if only a minor one. And the news is constantly filled with mentions of new states pushing through comprehensive medical bills, or full-on recreational ones. About half the country is already living in recreational locations.
The US government weakens itself by allowing this, and since it can’t stop it, or reverse it, or bully it, or arrest it, or even lie about it anymore, it must change tack if it wants to save face. And ultimately, this is non-negotiable. The US can’t have a federal mandate that no state will follow, so the question of ‘will a decriminalization measure or legalization measure go through soon’, has the very easy answer of ‘yes, because it has to.’
Having said that, though the walls are certainly closing in, it could be the next one and not this one. While I expect things can’t go on this way for more than another year tops, it doesn’t mean it has to be this particular bill. I do, however, think the MORE Act has a great chance of passing, even if just because of the timing.
To give an idea of how much the government does understand this, there are now states like North Carolina, where republicans are pushing legalization measures. Not because they agree, but simply because they understand that it’s what their constituents want, and that if they want to keep their seats, this is the new deal.
There is even yet another bill making the rounds in Congress, this one an actual legalization measure. The Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act is led by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and seeks to go a step further by legalizing cannabis and instituting a federal market for it. This is more extreme, making the MORE Act slightly more likely between the two, in my estimation. That a bill has to pass soon is a fact of US federal power and control, but chances are it will be a less aggressive one. Competition between the two bills could even cause problems, though they technically do different things, and could potentially both be passed.
This is certainly an exciting time in the world of weed. The MORE Act might just be the ticket to federal cannabis decriminalization, and the end to restrictive and silly prohibition laws. The one thing we can be almost certain of, is that a bill of this nature will pass soon. However, for now, we’ll have to carefully watch progress to see the fate of HR 3617.
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Disclaimer: Hi, I’m a researcher and writer. I’m not a doctor, lawyer, or businessperson. All information in my articles is sourced and referenced, and all opinions stated are mine. I am not giving anyone advise, and though I am more than happy to discuss topics, should someone have a further question or concern, they should seek guidance from a relevant professional.