The cannabis industry has been awaiting a U.S. House vote on the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, legislation that would federally decriminalize cannabis by removing it from the Controlled Substances Act, but the floor vote, which had been slated for the week of Sept. 21, has been indefinitely postponed by House Democratic leaders.
“This delay by the House does not change the fact that the overwhelming majority of voters support ending the federal prohibition of cannabis, including majorities of Democrats, Independents and Republicans,” NORML Political Director Justin Strekal said in a public statement. “This delay does not change the fact that 33 states and the District of Columbia regulate the production and distribution of medical cannabis in a manner that is inconsistent with federal policy, and that one out of four Americans now reside in jurisdictions where adult-use is legal under state law. This delay does not change the fact that voters in several states, including key electoral battleground states for both control of the Presidency and the Senate, will be passing similar state-level marijuana measures on Election Day.”
The delay comes after some lawmakers indicated reluctance to take up the legislation before tackling a COVID-19 relief package, which they view as must-pass legislation, according to The Hill.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) did not include the MORE Act on the floor schedule for the week, and it is unclear when the vote may be rescheduled.
Hoyer told The Hill that Democratic leaders are “committed” to scheduling a vote on the bill before the end of the year, and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-NY), the primary sponsor of the MORE Act, said the vote may occur after the November elections.
“It’s sounding like the vote will definitely be delayed until the lame duck,” Patrick Martin, principal and director of the Midwest arm of Cozen O’Connor, told Cannabis Business Times and Cannabis Dispensary in an emailed statement. “While the industry, activist community and civil rights organizations will be disappointed that politics got in the way of this vote taking place next week, if the MORE Act passes before the end of the year, it will be an historic moment for the movement.”
Aside from federal decriminalization, the MORE Act also would also address the past harms of cannabis prohibition, particularly on communities of color and other marginalized groups. The legislation would require federal courts to expunge prior cannabis-related convictions and would impose a 5% excise tax on the legal cannabis industry to fund these efforts, as well as three grant programs to aid those most impacted by the War on Drugs.
While the legislation’s passage in the Senate is less likely, Martin told CBT and CD in an interview last month that passing the bill on the House floor would be a monumental moment for the industry, even if the legislation falters in the Senate.
“Passing a legalization bill on the House floor would be tremendous progress, and I think it would set a precedent moving forward that will ultimately help lead to legalization,” he said.