Riding an Election Day sweep of five state cannabis ballot measures, the U.S. House of Representatives appears poised to vote next month on a historic decriminalization bill.
In a letter sent Monday to colleagues, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) wrote that the House would vote in December on the MORE Act, a bill that would, among other things, remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) and expunge related criminal convictions. He did not give a specific timeline for the vote, only confirming that it would take place during Congress’s lame-duck, end-of-year session.
Congress had been set to vote on the bill prior to last week’s election. But Democratic leaders announced in September their plan to postpone the vote and focus on a new COVID-19 relief package. No new pandemic-related stimulus package has been approved, but the House appears set to move forward on the MORE Act anyway – though many observers expect the bill, like other recent cannabis-related measures, to ultimately stall in the Senate.
“As we look ahead to the November and December legislative work periods, I hope we can finish the 116th Congress with the same energy and record of achievement that characterized the House over the past two years,” Hoyer wrote in the letter to his colleagues.
A day after Hoyer’s letter was made public, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) and Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), the co-chairs of the House Cannabis Caucus, issued their own letter to colleagues that called on them to support passage of the MORE Act.
Their letter pointed to the recent successful REC ballot campaigns in New Jersey, Arizona, Montana and South Dakota, and the MED measure that was approved last week in Mississippi. The letter also noted that national support for cannabis legalization is at an all-time high – perhaps best evidenced by Gallup polling results released this week that show 68% of American adults support REC legalization.
That Gallup poll found that 83% of Democrats supported legalization, as well as 72% of independents. Just 48% of Republicans were in support, a slight decrease from polling figures released in September. Support, though, was above 60% from both men and women and across all income levels.
“Americans in five very different states voted overwhelmingly to liberalize their cannabis policies, and it is clearer than ever that the American people are demanding a change to outdated cannabis laws,” reads the Blumenauer-Lee letter. “There’s no question: cannabis prohibition will end soon. We should lead the way by passing [the MORE Act].”
The MORE Act – officially the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act – represents what could be a historic shift in federal drug policy. Along with de-scheduling cannabis from the CSA and eliminating criminal records, it would direct a portion of tax revenue to help disadvantaged communities in areas like job training and education, would open an avenue for further research into cannabis, and would allow physicians with the Veterans Administration to make MED recommendations.
Passage of the bill won’t necessarily make cannabis legal across the country, as states would still have the power to set their own laws. But it would ensure state-legal markets that the federal government won’t interfere with their operations.
In a September statement prior to the first planned House vote on the bill, NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano suggested its success in a Democratic-controlled Congress could signal to then-presidential candidate Joe Biden an appetite for more comprehensive reform. With Biden now the president-elect, and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris one of the authors of the Senate version of the MORE Act, that message could be even more impactful.
“The recent success of cannabis reform in states around the country should give us a new sense of urgency to ensure Congress catches up with the American people,” reads the letter from Blumenauer and Lee. “This is a critical issue of racial justice, and the failed war on drugs has devastated communities of color, especially Black and Brown communities. We can no longer ignore our duty to repair the damage that this harmful form of systemic racism has done.”
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