Key House Committee Approves MORE Act to Federally Decriminalize Cannabis
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Key House Committee Approves MORE Act to Federally Decriminalize Cannabis

The House Judiciary Committee approved the legislation in a bipartisan vote of 24 to 10, sending it for a floor vote.

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November 20, 2019

The House Judiciary Committee approved the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment, and Expungement (MORE) Act Nov. 20, marking the first time a congressional committee has approved a piece of legislation to end federal cannabis prohibition.

“This is a truly historic moment in our nation's political history,” said NORML Executive Director Erik Altieri in a public statement. “For the first time, a Congressional committee has approved far-reaching legislation to not just put an end to federal marijuana prohibition, but to address the countless harms our prohibitionist policies have wrought, notable on communities of color and other marginalized groups. Opposition to our failed war on marijuana has reached a boiling point with over two-thirds of all Americans, including majorities of all political persuasions, now supporting legalization. Congress should respect the will of the people and promptly approve the MORE Act and close this dark chapter of failed public policy."

The MORE Act, introduced in July by House Judiciary Chairman Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY), would decriminalize cannabis federally by removing it from the Controlled Substances Act.

The legislation requires federal courts to expunge prior cannabis-related convictions, and would impose a minor excise tax on the legal cannabis industry to fund the expungement of these records, as well as the following three grant programs, as outlined in the bill:

  • The Community Reinvestment Grant Program: Provides services to the individuals most adversely impacted by the War on Drugs, including job training, re-entry services, legal aid, literacy programs, youth recreation, mentoring and substance use treatment
  • The Cannabis Opportunity Grant Program: Provides funds for loans to assist small businesses in the marijuana industry that are owned and controlled by socially and economically disadvantaged individuals
  • The Equitable Licensing Grant Program: Provides funds for programs that minimize barriers to marijuana licensing and employment for the individuals most adversely impacted by the War on Drugs

“Not only does the bill reverse the failed prohibition of cannabis, but it provides pathways for opportunity and ownership in the emerging industry for those who have suffered most,” said NORML Political Director Justin Strekal, in a public statement. “In 2018 alone, over 663,000 Americans were arrested for marijuana-related crimes, a three-year high. Now that Chairman Nadler has moved the MORE Act through committee, it is time for the full House to vote and have every member of Congress show their constituents which side of history they stand on.”

The bill would also open up Small Business Administration funding for cannabis-related businesses and service providers, and provides for non-discrimination protections for cannabis use or possession.

Finally, the legislation requires the Bureau of Labor Statistics to collect data on the demographics of the industry to ensure people of color and economically disadvantaged individuals can participate in the industry.

“This committee vote is a historic step forward for cannabis policy reform at the federal level,” said Cannabis Trade Federation CEO Neal Levine, in a public statement. “The MORE Act would ensure cannabis consumers and businesses are treated fairly under the law. It would also bolster state and industry efforts to promote diversity within the cannabis business community, while helping communities and individuals adversely impacted by the war on drugs. A solid majority of Americans support ending cannabis prohibition, and we’re finally seeing that reflected in a vote on Capitol Hill.”

The MORE Act has picked up 55 cosponsors in the House, and its passage out of committee comes just a week after a new Pew Research Center poll found that two-thirds of Americans support cannabis legalization.

“With today’s mark-up of the MORE Act, the United States is coming one step closer to ending the devastating harms of marijuana prohibition, which have fallen so heavily on black and brown people,” said Drug Policy Alliance Executive Director Maria MacFarland Sánchez-Moreno in a public statement. “This legislation won’t make up for the full scale of harm that prohibition has caused to its victims. It’s not going to return anyone their lost dreams, time lost at the mercy of the criminal justice system; or the years spent away from their families. But this legislation is the closest we’ve come yet to not only ending those harms at the federal level, but also beginning to repair them. Now it’s up to Congress to do the right thing and swiftly pass the bill to ensure justice is not delayed a moment longer.”

“Today’s vote marks a turning point for federal cannabis policy, and is truly a sign that prohibition’s days are numbered,” added Aaron Smith, executive director of the National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA), in a public statement. “Thanks to the diligent efforts of advocates and lawmakers from across the political spectrum, we’ve seen more progress in this Congress than ever before. Supermajority public support for legalization, increasing recognition of the devastating impacts of prohibition on marginalized communities and people of color, and the undeniable success of state cannabis programs throughout the country are all helping to build momentum for comprehensive change in the foreseeable future.”

The bill can be brought to a floor vote in the House once it has been waived or considered by each of the other seven committees to which it has been referred, and a companion bill, S. 2227, has been introduced by Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) in the Senate.

"It is worth noting, however, that despite the bill’s significance, its pathway forward is a difficult one," David Mangone, director of policy and government affairs for The Liaison Group, told Cannabis Business Times. "When you compare this piece of legislation to something like H.R. 1595, the SAFE Banking Act, it is heavily partisan and does not have the broad coalition of non-cannabis supporters that SAFE had. Primarily, this bill is being advance by the drug policy activism community and social justice groups--organizations that typically are on the left side of the political spectrum. The current political reality is one of concessions and compromise, especially when it comes to advancing legislation in the Senate."

While the legislation is unlikely to pass and be signed into law during this legislative session, Mangone added that an eventual shift in power on Capitol Hill could propel the legislation forward, and businesses should be prepared.

"The MORE Act contains many lofty principles that businesses in the cannabis industry should already be working towards internally, including diversifying workforce and ownership opportunities, and working to correct the discriminatory impacts of cannabis enforcement," Mangone said. "Chairman Nadler indicated that the MORE act would resolve issues with banking, the 280E tax provision and other challenges the industry currently faces, but reform on these concepts may have to be incremental to gain support of moderate Democrats, Republicans and, ultimately, the White House."