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Will Congress Vote to Legalize Cannabis? Breaking Down a Historic Week in Marijuana Policy

Raj Chander, CANiVISION Southeast Regional Production Lead

Advocates, business owners and lobbyists in the industry this week are buzzing over last week’s announcement that the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act would receive a vote on the House floor.

What exactly is in the bill, and why are so many people in cannabis happy about a vote? Keep reading for a full breakdown.

The MORE Act was introduced into the Senatein the summer of 2019 by Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), with a matching bill in the House sponsored by Rep. Jerrod Nadler (D-NY). Both are powerful figures in Washington — Harris is now the Vice President-elect, and Nadler chairs the important House Judiciary committee.

The MORE Act is notable among advocates because it isn’t just a simple legalization bill — it goes far beyond just de-scheduling cannabis or kicking the responsibility to the states the way other legislative actions do.

Provisions of the bill include:

  • Automatic expungement of low-level arrests for possession of marijuana. Where expungement is currently available today, it typically requires an unwieldy amount of time and paperwork.
  • Creation of a federal Cannabis Justice Office to oversee the distribution of the Community Reinvestment Grant Program, which would provide cannabis tax dollars for career training, youth literacy and recreation to communities harmed the most by the drug war.
  • Establishment of an Equitable Licensing Grant Program to provide “funding [to] implement equitable cannabis licensing programs that minimize barriers to cannabis licensing and employment for individuals most adversely impacted by the War on Drugs.”

Congressional Democrats may have been emboldened by maintaining their House majority and winning the presidency in November’s elections. Cannabis laws also saw smashing success on a state level — all five states (South Dakota, New Jersey, Arizona, Mississippi and Montana) with cannabis on the ballot saw voters overwhelmingly approve those initiatives. In New Jersey, for example, nearly two in three voters approved legalization.

On the other hand, many Republicans have criticized House leadership for holding the vote now, instead of solely taking up stimulus legislation as so many individuals and businesses suffer from America’s ongoing COVID-19 surge.

This afternoon, the House Committee on Rules will hold a markup session, where they will meet to discuss the bill and propose amendments. Even if the bill survives markup without being fundamentally altered, it must still pass a full floor vote. Analysts believe it should pass the Democratic-controlled House, but will likely fall short in the Senate, which is still under GOP control.

As mentioned, The MORE Act is one of the more progressive paths to cannabis legalization. The fact that any legalization bill is getting a vote in the largest chamber of Congress is historic enough — the last major bill to receive a full floor was the SAFE Banking Act in 2019, which removed restrictions on cannabis companies doing business with banks.

The passing of a relatively progressive piece of legislation like the MORE Act — even in one chamber of Congress — would represent a huge step towards the kind of equitable legalization of marijuana that advocates have spent many years calling for. It would also signal that Congress is willing to play ball on cannabis legislation, and with control of the Senate up for grabs in January’s Georgia runoff, could set the industry up for a historic 2021 and accelerate previous timelines for federal legalization.

Originally published at https://rajchander.medium.com on December 2, 2020.


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