On December 4, the US House of Representatives passed the Marijuana Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act—the bill that would effectively end federal marijuana prohibition—by a vote of 228 to 164.
The MORE Act becomes the first comprehensive piece of legislation to deschedule marijuana ever to pass a chamber of Congress. It was the first time in 24 years that Congress voted on legislation to address the disparity between state and federal marijuana laws, and the first time it revisited the federal criminalization of marijuana since the 1970 passage of the Controlled Substances Act.
“The criminalization of marijuana is a cornerstone of the racist War on Drugs. Even after a decade of reform victories, one person was arrested nearly every minute last year for simply possessing marijuana,” said Maritza Perez, director of the Office of National Affairs at the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA*), in a press release. “Today the House took the most powerful step forward to address that shameful legacy. But the MORE Act as passed is imperfect, and we will continue to demand more until our communities have the world they deserve.”
The MORE Act would decriminalize marijuana possession at the federal level, expunge and seal certain low-level federal marijuana convictions, and direct a 5 percent commercial tax on marijuana sales to be reinvested in communities of color hit hard by the drug war. The tax would grow to 8 percent over the next five years.
However, despite its success in the House, the MORE Act is likely to be blocked if it faces a Republican-majority Senate.
The MORE Act vote had been postponed from an initially anticipated date in September. This was due in large part to moderate Democrats’ fears that the bill would prove too controversial to safely vote on before the election—despite the fact that support for ending federal marijuana prohibition has been hitting record highs for several years, with more than two-thirds of Americans now in favor of broad legalization.
The MORE Act has prompted some confusion about what impact the removal of marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act—where it’s currently Schedule I, the classification for substances with the “highest potential for abuse” and “no currently accepted medical use”—would have on state-level policy.
“The reality is for those states that have already moved forward and amended their marijuana laws, they will no longer be in conflict with federal law, and they will no longer be under any undue pressure from the federal government,” Paul Armentano, deputy director of the NORML Foundation, told Filter. “Whereas, conversely those states that have now amended their laws that continue to keep marijuana criminalized, they under the MORE Act are also under no obligation to amend their policy either. So in states where marijuana is illegal today it would be just as illegal tomorrow under the MORE Act. The difference has to do with the states that have moved to legalize.”
Marijuana is currently legal for medical use in 34 states, and for use by all adults in 11. While Black Americans use marijuana at equal rates to whites, they are four times more likely to be arrested for possession.
“[The MORE Act] is not to promote drug use. It is not to undermine law enforcement. But rather to bring justice to millions of Americans. It has taken a long time to get here,” said Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee during a December 2 Rules Committee hearing on the bill, ahead of its House vote. “Thousands of men and women … have suffered needlessly from the federal criminalization of marijuana, still burdened today—being prevented from housing, scholarships, college opportunities [and] jobs … particularly in communities of color.”
“Especially in this year, the way that racial justice has bubbled up in conversations across the country, it’s important that ending marijuana prohibition is done through this lens,” Queen Adesuyi, a policy manager for DPA, told Filter. “The MORE Act is now setting the bar for where Congress would have to be in further conversations around marijuana.” Although Adesuyi noted that the bill “won’t be able to pass through the Senate with this Congress and make it to the president’s desk,” she called the vote “an important moment” in marijuana reform history. “And it will allow for further conversations to continue to see marijuana prohibition actually end officially in the next coming year.”
The MORE Act also includes a provision for expansion of marijuana use by the Department of Veterans Affairs. Marijuana has long been known to aid in the treatment of veteran PTSD, but has been hampered by its Schedule 1 categorization, which makes it almost impossible for researchers to access for clinical trials.
On the same day that the Rules Committee Hearing took place, the United Nations separately voted to remove medical marijuana from its list of the world’s most “dangerous” drugs.
*DPA previously provided a restricted grant to The Influence Foundation, which operates Filter, to support a Drug War Journalism Diversity Fellowship.