Friday December 4, 2020
The United States House of Representatives has voted Friday, December 4, 2020 to approve the MORE act, becoming the first bill to be passed regarding the federal decriminalization of cannabis. With this vote the act, formally known as the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act of 2019, or H.R. 3884, has reached the highest level of any legislation seeking federal cannabis reform.
What Will the MORE Act Do for Cannabis Reform?
The MORE act encompasses a number of cannabis reform measures, but the first and foremost is removing the plant from the list of federally scheduled substances. This would decriminalize the drug, meaning that there would not be criminal penalties for possessing, producing, or distributing cannabis. It is important to note that the law does not extend to cannabis use.
The law also creates pathways for expungements and sentencing reviews of past cannabis offenses, and many of the additional measures of the bill are aimed at criminal justice. The act would also restrict the government's ability to deny certain immigration or federal benefits on the basis of cannabis offenses. This is akin to how some states have given protection to residents from eviction or job-related regulations but relevant to federal programs. The MORE act also has a provision to change all existing legal references of “marijuana” to its proper name “cannabis.”
The act would also place a 5% tax on cannabis to fund various projects combatting the ravages of cannabis prohibition (which have largely impacted minority communities and communities of color the most).
For the industry, the MORE act would bring monumental change in the form of access to banking services and loans, two elements which have heavily restricted the growth of small and medium businesses in the cannabis space. This has been one of the biggest goals of the industry since its inception, and might very well issue in an era of rapid cannabis expansion.
Another benefit not expressly addressed in the bill is that it could eventually create a path to interstate cannabis commerce, where one state might be able to sell its excess stock to another. For example, states like Oregon who have had a surplus of product might be able to supply Nevada, who must expend tremendous resources to grow in the desert climate.
What Comes Next for Federal Marijuana Legislation?
There are countless more steps to go to see the law enacted, and many regard this vote as largely symbolic in the face of heavy opposition in the GOP-led Senate, which it will progress to next.
The circumstances may change depending on Georgia’s January senate runoff, which would potentially end up with a Democratic-majority, or less likely but still possible, a completely divided senate. In all three of those scenarios, the act might still find difficulty getting legislators to agree on the wide range of provisions the MORE act covers, which may result in other less extensive but more “passable” laws being proposed to rally behind, ultimately adding to the already long bureaucratic process.
However, regardless of the challenges to come, let’s take a moment to celebrate this historic event. The 2020 national election passed a slew of cannabis regulation, as have the majority of recent elections in the last decade. With 15 states allowing for legal cannabis, with a healthy portion of traditionally conservative states now in the mix, it would seem that cannabis reform is inevitable. Though this step might not be the last, it is certainly an important first of many.
What are your thoughts on the passing of the MORE Act? Share your thoughts in the comments below.