The U.S. House will vote this week on a bill that would legalize cannabis possession and sales, although the bill is unlikely to receive a vote in the Senate during the current session of Congress. It will nevertheless be the first time either body of Congress has voted on a law that would reverse the federal prohibition that has been in place for decades.
House bill HR 3884—the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement Act (MORE Act)—is scheduled to be voted on by the full House on either Thursday or Friday, after a Wednesday hearing in the Rules Committee where several amendments to the bill will be proposed and voted on, according to Marijuana Moment.
The MORE Act would remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act, eliminating Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) control of the substance. It would add a five percent federal tax to all cannabis sales, with the revenue going to communities impacted by the Drug War. The law would also expunge some previous cannabis convictions, and prevent deportation of immigrants accused of minor cannabis offenses.
The vote will be historic. Despite lingering opposition to legal cannabis among Republicans and some Democrats, the political tide has shifted enough that outright drug warriors no longer control the discussion. Democratic leadership in the House supports the bill, even though the result of the vote will be mostly symbolic, since the Senate is unlikely to pass or even vote on the law.
A Gallup poll done before the election shows that 68 percent of American adults support federal cannabis legalization, with people identifying as Democrats (83 percent) or independents (72 percent) strongly in favor, and Republicans (48 percent) and conservatives (49 percent) about evenly divided on the issue. According to Gallup, overall public support has risen 20 points since 2012, when Washington and Colorado became the first states to legalize recreational cannabis.
Despite majority support for recreational and medical cannabis legalization in three conservative state elections on Nov. 3, the MORE Act has just one Republican co-sponsor, Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz. Dozens of Republican legislators took to Twitter and other social media this week to repeat scripted talking points about House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s support for a vote on HR 3884 and an unrelated bill restricting private ownership of exotic animals like tigers.
“This week the House is voting on tigers and marijuana legislation but nothing to help small businesses who are struggling,” tweeted Michigan Republican Representative Tim Walberg. “Once again, Speaker Pelosi’s misplaced priorities are hurting Michigan workers and job creators.” (Michigan voters approved recreational cannabis legalization in 2018.)
The Senate version of the MORE Act, S 2227, is unlikely to be voted on at all this year. While Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was a major supporter of hemp reform—because it was supported by Kentucky farmers—the Republican leader will probably not allow a vote for legal marijuana to take place.
Unless Democrats win two Senate runoff elections in Georgia next January—a longshot—McConnell will continue to lead the Senate for at least two more years, probably preventing major changes to cannabis law. (A divided Congress may actually benefit nicotine vapers, on the other hand—if Republicans prevent passage of a federal flavor ban.)
Senator and Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris is the primary sponsor of the Senate version of the MORE Act, but her running mate, President-Elect Joe Biden does not support recreational cannabis legalization. Biden’s team helped craft the cautious Democratic Party platform position that supports decriminalization of cannabis possession and legal medical marijuana, along with expungement of cannabis use and possession convictions.
Biden does support continuing the Obama-era policy of letting states decide whether to legalize recreational pot, as did President Trump. Since being named Biden’s running mate, Sen. Harris has backed off the bold legalization position she supported when introducing the MORE Act in 2019.
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