For all the vagaries that surround cannabis legalization in the United States, the most likely path for federal action rests with Congress. As states across the country continue to legalize both medical marijuana as well as adult-use cannabis, a broader shift in policy at the national level has become the movement’s focal point.
Heading into this year, there were several bills in various stages of the legislative process each aimed at overhauling federal cannabis laws. While some pushed for outright legalization, others settled for decriminalization.
At the same time as bills were winding their way through Congress, a slew of candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination were likewise outlining the ways in which they would change the status quo with cannabis. One of them, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) — now the Democratic vice-presidential nominee — became the lead Senate sponsor for the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act last year.
Before the MORE Act can reach the Senate, however, it must pass through the House.
On Friday, House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-SC) confirmed to members that he expects the chamber to vote on the MORE Act during its September work period. This news has set the stage for a historic floor vote on an issue that has enjoyed plenty of verbal support but little in the way of actual substantive action. Now arrives a chance to see if the numerous politicians who have spoken in favor of legalization will back their words with a vote.
In breaking the news, Marijuana Moment’s Kyle Jaeger also detailed some of the lingering questions that remain in terms of getting the MORE Act to a vote.
“The legislation, introduced by Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) last year, cleared his panel and was referred to several other committees. It’s not clear whether those committees will waive jurisdiction or mark up the bill in order for it to get a full chamber vote.”
Will the MORE Act pass the Democrat-controlled House?
During a normal election cycle, one might be inclined to think that the prominent connection to Harris would be enough to ensure that at least all Democrats in Congress were in support, but such assumptions are of no value with the political sphere so severely warped.
Regardless, the bill has at least a decent shot of getting through the House. Unfortunately, it will then need to make it through the Republican-majority Senate before requiring President Trump’s signature.
The second and third steps of this process bode ominously for the MORE Act’s chances. That said, a 2019 Pew Research Center survey found that 55% of Republicans and Republican leaners favor the legalization of cannabis, so should elected officials choose to reflect the will of their constituents with their votes, marijuana could be about the only thing Congress agrees on this year.
Assuming such an outcome does not prevail, approval of the MORE Act by any branch of Congress would nonetheless be a significant indicator of where the needle stands when it comes to federal cannabis policy reform.
In part, that’s because the MORE Act does far beyond the bare minimum when it comes to legalizing weed. As Marijuana Moment summarized:
“The MORE Act would federally deschedule cannabis, expunge the records of those with prior marijuana convictions and impose a federal five percent tax on sales, revenue from which would be reinvested in communities most impacted by the drug war. It would also create a pathway for resentencing for those incarcerated for marijuana offenses, as well as protect immigrants from being denied citizenship over cannabis and prevent federal agencies from denying public benefits or security clearances due to its use.”
That’s a ton of substantial changes.
Most impressively, the MORE Act covers not only those directly involved in the cannabis industry, but also gives hefty consideration to the generations of individuals and families negatively impacted by past drug policy. That such a bill is being pursued during the tail-end of a historically abnormal session of Congress speaks both to the issue’s urgency and to its sponsors’ faith that the shifting sands of public opinion have now given way to firm ground.
Whether the MORE Act becomes the legislation to build on this base of progress remains to be seen. That some bill, sooner than later, will ultimately succeed, however, is starting to feel far more like a foregone conclusion.