Editor's note: Since this article was published, the House Rules Committee postponed hearing the MORE Act until March 30 and five amendments to the legislation have been introduced. Read the update here.
Among three high-profile bills aimed at broad federal cannabis reform introduced this Congress, the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act is on course to be the first to receive a floor vote.
Sponsored by U.S. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., the bill, which aims to remove cannabis from the U.S. Controlled Substance Act, was first introduced in July 2019 and was passed by the full lower chamber via a 228-164 vote in December 2020. That marked the first time a full body of Congress voted on a broad cannabis decriminalization measure.
But the previous version of the bill ultimately made it nowhere in the Senate with then-Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., in the driver’s seat.
Now, the House Rules Committee announced March 24 that it will hold a hearing on the current version of the MORE Act, House Bill 3617, at 2 p.m. March 28. In addition, the legislation was also placed on the House calendar of bills expected to be considered by the full chamber next week.
The announcements come after more than 20 chief executives from top cannabis companies and various state and advocacy group leaders met with 60 congressional leaders last week in Washington, D.C., urging them for immediate action on reform. U.S. Cannabis Council CEO Steven Hawkins was among the executives leading the charge on Capitol Hill.
“We are encouraged by today’s developments in Congress,” Hawkins said in a March 24 statement. “The House is moving toward passage of the MORE Act, which would deschedule cannabis, and the Senate unanimously passed a bill that would expand cannabis research in the United States. Next month, we expect the Senate will introduce its own descheduling proposal.”
The Senate bill that made headway Thursday, the Cannabidiol and Marihuana Research Expansion Act, was passed by the full upper chamber by unanimous consent. Incremental reform, the legislation, in part, aims to ensure that research on CBD and other potentially beneficial cannabis-derived substances is based on “sound science” while also reducing the regulatory barriers associated with conducting research on cannabis.
That legislation is sponsored by Sens. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii.
“Current rules and regulations make it hard for researchers to study how marijuana and marijuana-derived medications can best be used to treat various conditions,” Feinstein said in a March 24 press release. “This important legislation will cut the red tape around the research process, helping get FDA-approved, marijuana-derived medications safely to patients.”
While cannabis reform advocates have celebrated victories big and small, broad legalization efforts remain a major focus in advancing the industry as a whole.
In addition to removing cannabis from the list of federally controlled substances and eliminating criminal penalties associated with the plant, the MORE Act intends to impose a 5% federal tax on cannabis sales and redistribute those revenues to programs that would help communities negatively impacted by prohibition.
The legislation would also retroactively expunge past cannabis convictions at the federal level, as well as support social equity programs and ongoing cannabis research.
When Nadler reintroduced the MORE Act in May 2021, he said in a press release, “I’m proud to reintroduce the MORE Act to decriminalize marijuana at the federal level, remove the needless burden of marijuana convictions on so many Americans, and invest in communities that have been disproportionately harmed by the war on drugs.”
The legislation passed the House Judiciary Committee, which Nadler chairs, in a 26-15 vote in September. The House Rules Committee hearing scheduled for March 28 would be the last hurdle the act needs to clear before heading to the full chamber.
Also making noise as broad reform efforts this Congress, the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act (CAOA), sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and colleagues Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Cory Booker, D-N.J., is lined up for a formal introduction next month.
And Rep. Nancy Mace, R-S.C., introduced the States Reform Act (SRA) in November. Her bill offers a path to reform that includes a 3% federal cannabis excise tax and provides state governments the power to regulate cannabis products through the health-and-safety oversights of their choosing, while authorizing the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) to oversee cannabis products in interstate commerce.
Meanwhile, incremental reform efforts, such as the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act, remain important too, Hawkins said.
“There is undoubtedly much more work to be done before anything reaches President Biden’s desk, but today’s actions strongly signal that Congress is committed to making concrete progress on cannabis this session,” he said Thursday. “The sheer number of proposals—spanning legalization, research, veterans affairs, criminal justice, banking and beyond—is a strength, not a weakness. We believe America’s system of cannabis prohibition will be dismantled with a thousand cuts, not in one fell swoop.”