By Matt Nagle
It was an historic day on Capitol Hill the afternoon of Nov. 20, when the House Judiciary Committee approved the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act. The first time that such a bill has been considered, cannabis advocates are hailing it as a big step toward ending federal marijuana prohibition by removing it from Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act. It would also clear criminal records of people with low-level marijuana offenses and include a five percent tax on cannabis products to provide job training and legal assistance to communities impacted hardest by the war on drugs.
“Today’s vote marks a turning point for federal cannabis policy, and is truly a sign that prohibition’s days are numbered,” said Aaron Smith, executive director of the National Cannabis Industry Association. “Thanks to the diligent efforts of advocates and lawmakers from across the political spectrum, we’ve seen more progress in this Congress than ever before.”
The 24-10 vote included “yes” votes from two Republican lawmakers – Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) and Tom McClintock (R-CA). Policy watchers say that the bill has a good chance of approval in the full House where Democrats control the chamber with 234 seats, but is likely to face a tougher battle in the Republican-controlled Senate. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is a staunch opponent of marijuana legalization.
The legislation was introduced by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), sponsor of the bill, which has 57 co-sponsors with Gaetz being the sole Republican. “The criminalization of marijuana has been a mistake,” Nadler said during the committee meeting. “The racial disparity in marijuana enforcement laws only compounded this mistake with serious consequences, particularly for minority communities.”
Later on Twitter he posted this message: “Proud to announce that @HouseJudiciary just passed my MORE Act, which ends the federal prohibition of marijuana and enacts restorative justice for communities of color that continue to be devastated by our nation’s failed War on Drugs.”
In a story posted at Human Rights Watch (www.hrw.org/news/2019/07/23/us-bill-seeks-end-federal-marijuana-prohibition), they and the American Civil Liberties Union, in a 2016 report, “Every 25 Seconds,” documented the impact of criminalizing personal drug use and possession in the U.S. As stated in the story, “These arrests for drug use and possession occur at a rate of one every 25 seconds. The groups found that these arrests have had long-term impacts, including separation of families, exclusion from job opportunities, and restriction of access to welfare, public housing, and voting, among thousands of other collateral consequences people face following a drug arrest.”
While some Republican members of congress believe that the MORE Act goes too far and say that it will not pass the Senate, Democratic supporters say that they are ready to negotiate.
“I don’t think it’s a good idea…to say, ‘the Senate won’t take this bill,’” Nadler told CNBC. “When the House passes a bill, it’s part of a continuing process. It’s not the end of a process.” (www.cnbc.com/2019/11/20/house-committee-approves-bill-decriminalizing-marijuana-on-the-federal-level.html)
NORML Executive Director Erik Altieri called the vote a truly historic moment in our nation’s political history. “For the first time, a Congressional committee has approved far-reaching legislation to not just put an end to federal marijuana prohibition, but to address the countless harms our prohibitionist policies have wrought, notably on communities of color and other already marginalized groups,” he said. “Opposition to our failed war on marijuana has reached a boiling point with over two-thirds of all Americans, including majorities of all political persuasions, now supporting legalization. Congress should respect the will of the people and promptly approve the MORE Act and close this dark chapter of failed public policy.”
As reported at Marijuana Moment, some GOP members are pushing a separate piece of bipartisan cannabis legislation, the Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States (STATES) Act. However, it does not address social equity or remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act. Rather, it would simply leave cannabis policy up to the states, arguing that a scaled-down approach would fare better in the Senate. (www.marijuanamoment.net/watch-live-congress-holds-historic-vote-on-bill-to-federally-legalize-marijuana)
It was just this past September that the House passed the banking provisions portion of the STATES Act, called the SAFE Banking Act. It was passed with an overwhelming bipartisan majority, 321-103, including nearly half of voting Republicans.