MORE Act – first approved in December floor vote – would remove cannabis from list of controlled substances, expunge federal convictions, provide resources to small businesses and impacted communities
WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment, and Expungement (MORE) Act, which would remove cannabis from the federal Controlled Substances Act and attempt to undo the damage caused by racially and economically disproportionate enforcement of prohibition, was reintroduced in the House of Representatives today. An earlier version of the bill was passed in December in a largely party-line vote, becoming the first comprehensive cannabis policy reform legislation to receive a floor vote or be approved by either chamber of Congress.
The MORE Act, sponsored by House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), would make cannabis legal at the federal level by removing it from the Controlled Substances Act and eliminating the conflict between federal law and states with regulated cannabis systems, and would require the expungement of past federal cannabis convictions. The bill would establish a Cannabis Justice Office to administer a program to reinvest resources in the communities that have been most heavily impacted by prohibition, funded by a graduated tax on state-legal cannabis commerce. It would also prevent discrimination based on cannabis consumption during immigration proceedings, and permit doctors within the Veterans Affairs system to recommend medical cannabis to patients in accordance with applicable state laws.
The MORE Act has not been reintroduced in the Senate yet, but Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has made cannabis policy reform a priority for the upper chamber this year, and is expected to introduce separate comprehensive descheduling and restorative justice legislation with Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Ron Wyden (D-OR) in the near future.
“The House has the opportunity to double down on its commitment to justice and economic recovery this year by taking up the MORE Act immediately and continuing the robust debate on how to best end the disastrous federal war on cannabis,” said Aaron Smith, co-founder and chief executive officer of the National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA). “Given the rapidly growing number of states with legal cannabis markets and the steadily increasing support from voters across the political spectrum, we expect there could be even more support for ending the failed federal prohibition in this session.”
Revisions from the version passed by the House in December include the removal of a provision that was added shortly before the successful floor vote that would have allowed federal regulators to deny cannabis business licenses to applicants who have prior felony convictions. It would also include provisions to allow the Small Business Administration to provide loans and technical assistance directly to cannabis-related businesses and support state and local equity licensing programs and put added emphasis on assisting people who have been most impacted by prohibition in succeeding in any industry.
However, advocates are concerned about the lack of a strong and comprehensive regulatory structure being included in the introductory language.
“In order to create a federal structure that is narrowly tailored to the unique characteristics of the cannabis industry and helps ensure fair opportunities for marginalized communities, innovation and stakeholder engagement are absolutely vital,” continued Smith. “We need to move beyond the alcohol and tobacco models and incorporate the lessons learned in legal cannabis markets if we want to create a regulatory environment where small businesses can truly thrive and which will start to repair the disparate harms caused by nearly a century of prohibition. We look forward to continuing our work with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to further develop this legislation and continue the momentum that has been building since the House first voted to deschedule cannabis.”
A recent Gallup poll showed a record 68% of Americans support making cannabis legal. On Election Day, voters in Arizona, Montana, and New Jersey approved measures to regulate cannabis for adults, while Mississippians overwhelmingly approved a medical cannabis referendum and voters in South Dakota passed both adult use and medical initiatives. The Mississippi Supreme Court recently invalidated the popular medical initiative due to an outdated technicality, and voters and advocates in South Dakota await a final ruling by that state’s highest court on a similar challenge to the approved adult use ballot initiative.
So far in 2021, the states of New Mexico, New York, and Virginia have all passed laws regulating cannabis for adults, and Alabama approved a medical cannabis bill earlier this month. Dozens of states are considering cannabis policy reform legislation this year.
Cannabis is now legal for adults in 17 states as well as the District of Columbia and the territories of CNMI and Guam, and 36 states as well as several territories have comprehensive medical cannabis laws. The substance is legal in some form in 47 states.