Key Congressional Committee Votes to End Federal Marijuana Prohibition

The Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act is the first-ever bill of its kind to be approved in Congress. It would legalize marijuana on the federal level.

In a historic vote, members of Congress approved a bill this week that paves the road to end federal cannabis prohibition. On Wednesday, the House Judiciary Committee passed the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act in a 24-10 vote. It is the first time that a congressional committee has approved a bill to make marijuana legal.

“These steps are long overdue. For far too long we’ve treated marijuana as a criminal justice problem instead of a matter of personal choice and public health,” said Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) in his opening remarks. “Arresting, prosecuting and incarcerating people at the federal level is unwise and unjust.”

A Pew Research Center poll published last week showed record-high support for making marijuana legal, with 67 percent of U.S. adults in favor.

Likelihood the Bill Will Become Law

It’s not yet apparent whether the vote is a turning point in national cannabis policy or a political gesture that won’t go anywhere.

The MORE Act, H.R. 3884, came with major Democratic backing and 55 cosponsors, while several Republican lawmakers wanted less than the MORE Act. Doug Collins (R-GA) voted against the bill emphasizing how other marijuana-related bills would make a better fit.

“This bill is nearly devoid of bipartisan support, and it fails to address many critical issues surrounding the cultivation, distribution, sale and use of marijuana,” Collins stated in his remarks on the vote.

Collins and other Republican lawmakers have pointed to another piece of marijuana legislation with less focus on social equity, H.R. 2093, also known as the Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States (STATES) Act.

“The MORE Act is the wrong way. There is effective legislation before this committee that is more comprehensive, much less bureaucratic, and which actually stands a chance of becoming law. This bill is none of those things,” Collins stated.

Still, the MORE Act has a high chance of approval in the full House, considering Democrats control the chamber with 234 seats. The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) described the passage of the legislation as the “biggest marijuana news of the year.”

“This is a truly historic moment in our nation’s political history. 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, notably on communities of color and other already marginalized groups,” said NORML Executive Director Erik Altieri.

Members of the Democratic-controlled House made it clear with the passage of the bipartisan SAFE Banking Act that they intended to send a broad marijuana legalization and decriminalization bill through.

The MORE Act will face a tougher time in the Senate, which has Republican control. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell opposes marijuana legalization and has yet to take up the SAFE Banking Act.

“I don’t think a majority of the Republicans will support this bill,” Rep. Ken Buck of Colorado said Wednesday. “It is even less likely that the Senate would take it up. Therefore, I would just suggest that we deal with other bills that we can get a much larger bipartisan support from.”

Nadler stated that the MORE Act was “the right thing to do” and that federal laws had not kept up with public support of cannabis reform.

“In my view, applying criminal penalties, with their attendant collateral consequences for marijuana offenses is unjust and harmful to our society. The MORE Act comprehensively addresses this injustice, and I urge all of my colleagues to support this bill today,” Nadler stated.

Nadler introduced the MORE Act (H.R. 3884) in July, and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) followed suit, introducing a companion bill in the Senate.

What’s the MORE Act?

Eleven states in the U.S. and Washington, D.C. have legalized recreational use marijuana. Medical marijuana is legal in 33 states and Washington, D.C. At the federal level, however, marijuana for any purpose remains illegal, classified as a Schedule I substance under the Controlled Substances Act.

The MORE Act would significantly change the classification of marijuana, effectively ending marijuana prohibition under federal law.

The MORE Act:

  • Removes cannabis from the list of federally controlled substances, effectively ending federal prohibition.
  • Allocates resources, funded by a 5 percent excise tax on cannabis products, to address the needs of communities that have been most impacted by the War on Drugs. The resources would create the Opportunity Trust Fund.
  • Clears or expunges prior federal marijuana convictions and arrests, and offers resentencing hearings for those cases still under supervision.
  • Opens up funding for small legitimate cannabis-related businesses and service providers.
  • Provides non-discrimination protections for marijuana use or possession and prohibits the denial of any federal public benefit based on the use or possession of marijuana, or a prior marijuana-related conviction.
  • Ensures that the use or possession of marijuana has no adverse impact under the immigration laws.
  • Requires that the Bureau of Labor Statistics collects data on the demographics of the industry.
  • Permits doctors within the Veterans Affairs system to recommend medical marijuana to patients in states that have legalized it.

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