On Saturday, Democrat Joe Biden was declared the winner in the 2020 race for the U.S. presidency. While gross acts of misinformation and the failing gasps of an inept coup threaten to linger over the lame duck months of Donald Trump’s term, Democrats are already plotting for what comes next.
Those plans remain murky, however, thanks in large part to the prospect of not one, but two runoff Senate races in the state of Georgia now set for January. Control of the chamber will hang in the balance, meaning the Democrat’s strongest position, at least for now, remains with the House. It’s a power the party has actually held since 2018, though as of now, they’ve yet to wield it to support legislation to decriminalize cannabis.
As we’ve previously reported, there are multiple bills in various stages of the process. Of all the contenders, one piece of legislation — the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act — has thus far seen the most momentum and support coalesce behind it.
In fact, things were moving so well that a House floor vote on the MORE Act was scheduled for September. Then, somewhat abruptly, that vote was cancelled. Likely a tactic in response to Republican efforts to align cannabis policy reform as something Democrats were working on “instead” of desperately needed Covid-19 relief (a false assertion), the move was widely panned by reform advocates.
“This is a delay of justice; it is as simple as that,” read an op-ed published by NORML in response to the vote being cancelled.
Prior to the election, encouraging poll results inspired at least one senior Democrat to offer optimism that a win on Nov. 3 would finally lead to fast action.
During a video chat with Green Enterprise last month, current Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said his plan, should he be reinstalled to his post, would be to “put this bill in play” and shared his belief that should that scenario prove possible, “we’ll have a good chance to pass it.”
As the smoke of the 2020 election continues to settle (or burn, depending on who you care to ask), it doesn’t appear that Schumer’s dreams of a Democratic majority in the senate will come easy. While the results of the dual aforementioned Georgia runoffs are yet to be decided, there is at least still some certainly that comes with the promise of a Biden-Harris administration in January.
For those who have followed the campaign trail, Biden (and later, once she’d joined as VP, Harris as well) has consistently declined to support outright federal cannabis legalization. Instead, his campaign has emphasized Biden’s pledge to decriminalize the plant.
In contrast to legalization, decriminalization removes criminal sanctions but does not legalize the sale or consumption of cannabis. It’s a far cry from what veterans of the industry have long called for, but in a choice between something and nothing, the MORE Act is most definitely the former.
And apparently the legislation is about to get the House floor vote it has long awaited.
As Marijuana Moment’s Kyle Jaeger reports, a December vote on the MORE Act is now expected. He also notes that it may partially be due to the fact that some of the Democrats who opposed an earlier vote have lost their bids for re-election.
“House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer previously announced this summer that the chamber would vote on the MORE Act in September,” observes Jaeger, “but that plan was postponed following pushback from certain centrist Democrats who worried about the optics of advancing cannabis reform before passing another coronavirus relief package.”
“Several of those members were voted out during an election in which voters in red states such as Montana and South Dakota approved cannabis legalization ballot measures, raising questions about the lawmakers’ strategic thinking on the issue.”
The will of the people is a deafening noise, but it appears Hoyer is now listening.
In what Jaeger terms a “Dear Colleague” letter sent to House members, Hoyer stated that the House will “vote on the MORE Act to decriminalize cannabis and expunge convictions for non-violent cannabis offenses that have prevented many Americans from getting jobs, applying for credit and loans, and accessing opportunities that make it possible to get ahead in our economy.”
There’s no reason to believe the current Senate Majority Leader, Republican Mitch McConnell, would allow the MORE Act a vote on his chamber’s floor but again, runoffs in Georgia loom. With President Biden on the way, however, it’s difficult to categorize the forthcoming MORE Act vote as entirely symbolic. At the same time, the pathways for cannabis reform via Congressional action remain wildly uncertain.
For now, let’s see if the vote really happens. Third time’s a charm?