The U.S. House of Representatives is set to make history next month when it finally votes on legalizing cannabis.
In an email to members that was obtained by Politico cannabis reporter Natalie Fertig, Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-SC) said the House would consider the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act during a September work period.
The bill (H.R. 3884), introduced in the House last year by Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY), would remove marijuana from Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), establish a 5% tax on all cannabis products and allow states to set their own marijuana policies.
It would also create a Cannabis Justice Office tasked with administering grants to individuals most adversely impacted by the War on Drugs and require federal courts to expunge cannabis-related offenses within one year of its passage.
An official date for the floor vote has not been announced, but Clyburn asked members if they planned to support the bill and to respond by September 3.
In November, the House Judiciary Committee advanced the bill — which currently has 87 co-sponsors — by a vote of 24-10. Only one Republican, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), has backed the proposal.
A Senate version of the bill introduced by democratic vice-presidential candidate Kamala Harris (D-CA) has just five co-sponsors — all democrats.
Neither chamber has ever voted on descheduling cannabis since the CSA was signed into law in 1970.
Several pro-cannabis groups applauded the news on Friday, including the National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA), NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws), the Marijuana Policy Project, and the Global Alliance for Cannabis Commerce, which called the upcoming floor vote “the greatest federal cannabis reform accomplishment in over 80 years.”
In a statement emailed to THCnet, NCIA spokesman Morgan Fox said the organization is “very excited that comprehensive cannabis policy reform is making progress.”
“This is a huge step in setting the stage for ending prohibition and helping repair the harms it has caused, particularly to marginalized communities,” he wrote. “Hopefully this action will raise the profile of cannabis policy reform on the national stage as we confront this and many other issues related to criminal justice in the coming months.”
For his part, NORML deputy director Paul Armentano said passage of the MORE Act is “essential in order to truly right the wrongs of federal marijuana criminalization, and to once and for all allow the majority of states that have legalized cannabis for either medical or adult-use to embrace these policies free from the threat of undue federal prosecution or interference.”
Meanwhile, the Marijuana Policy Project described the pending floor vote on the MORE Act as “a major step forward in criminal justice reform.”
“It would also empower states to implement programs that can encourage economic growth when it is urgently needed,” the group wrote vita Twitter.
Importantly, the MORE Act would not immediately legalize cannabis across all 50 states. Instead, it would remove marijuana from the CSA and allow states to set their own regulations for the production and sale of cannabis products.
Currently, eleven states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for recreational use. Meanwhile, 33 states have legalized medical cannabis sales and 47 states have reformed cannabis laws.
However, as NORML’s Armentano astutely pointed out, a floor vote on the bill will also “put our federal lawmakers on record.”
“We will know who stands with the majority of Americans in supporting an end to the failed federal policy of marijuana prohibition,” he said.
“The House will soon vote on our legislation to legalize marijuana and end the failed policy of prohibition that has resulted in a long and shameful period of selective enforcement against people of color, especially Black men,” he wrote. “As people across the country protest racial injustices, there’s even greater urgency for Congress to seize this historic opportunity and finally align our cannabis laws with what the majority of Americans support, while ensuring restorative justice.”
Indeed, roughly two-thirds of American now support federal legalization, according to several polls.
Not everyone was thrilled with the news, however.
Kevin Sabet, the founder and president of Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM), an anti-legalization lobbying group, called the upcoming vote “disappointing.”
“The MORE Act is more of the same failures and harms we’ve seen from this industry,” he wrote via a statement. “More wealthy pot profiteers taking advantage of disadvantaged communities by putting pot shops in communities of color; More failures to regulate the industry; More political contributions from the industry buying support in state houses and in Congress; More lobbyists working to rollback common sense regulation; More impaired driving crashes and deaths And more mental health issues.”
Sabet, who seemed to acknowledge that a Democrat-controlled House could pass the bill next month, added that it “faces the same future as al the rest of the misguided, pro-pot moves the House Majority has passed: Death in the Senate and no support from the White House.”
Earlier this month, The Leadership Conference — a coalition of more than 220 national advocacy organizations — sent a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) urging them to schedule a September floor vote on the MORE Act.
“The MORE Act addresses the collateral consequences of federal marijuana criminalization and takes steps to ensure the legal marketplace is diverse and inclusive of individuals most adversely impacted by prohibition,” the letter read.
Also recall that last month, the Marijuana Justice Coalition — which includes more than a dozen national advocacy organizations — penned a joint letter to members of Congress asking for their support of the MORE Act in the face of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
“The MORE Act is needed now more than ever before,” the MJC wrote at the time. “Looking toward long-term economic recovery, we must remove barriers to employment for those who have lost jobs, create new businesses and employment opportunities to help replace those that have disappeared and that will not be coming back, and to raise billions of dollars in new tax revenue to offset the devastating economic losses to state and local governments.”