The House of Representatives decided to delay a planned vote on landmark cannabis legislation The Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act (MORE) until after the election, citing the need to pass a Covid-19 relief package beforehand and concern that voting on a cannabis bill could be a political liability before the November election.
Under the MORE Act, cannabis would be decriminalized and removed as a Schedule I drug from the Controlled Substances Act. It would then be up to individual states to determine its legal status.
The MORE Act was scheduled to be voted on this week—the week of September 21. On September 14, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., tweeted, “The time has come to decriminalize marijuana in this country.” In the days leading up to the House vote however, moderate Democrats in particular expressed concern about focusing on a cannabis bill—and late last week, House Democrats announced they would not put it up for a vote.
“The MORE Act remains a critical component of House Democrats’ plan for addressing systemic racism and advancing criminal justice reform, and we are committed to bringing it to the Floor for a vote before the end of the year,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said in a statement. “Right now, the House is focused relentlessly on securing agreement to stave off a damaging government shutdown and continuing to do its job addressing the Covid-19 pandemic.”
In the Democratic primary earlier this year, Hoyer was challenged by MacKayla Wilkes, a cannabis reform candidate who made cannabis and its connections to social justice issues a central part of her campaign.
The news of the MORE Act vote being postponed was criticized by the National Organization For Reforming Marijuana Laws (NORML), who released a statement that quoted Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter From a Birmingham Jail.”
“Justice delayed is justice denied,” a press release from NORML declared. In a statement, NORML also stated that “the concerns that led to a delay in the roll-call [for The MORE Act] were not substantive about the legislation itself. Rather, they were a result of the political uncertainties and division that have consistently plagued Congress in the wake of the Senate and White House’s refusal to work with House Democrats to pass another round of COVID economic relief.”
NORML’s Political Director Justin Strekal stressed massive support for cannabis reform across the country: “This delay does not change the fact that the overwhelming majority of voters support ending the federal prohibition of cannabis, including majorities of Democrats, Independents, and Republicans,” Strekal said in a statement.
According to the Pew Research Center, 67 percent of Americans support cannabis legalization, including 78 percent of Democrats and 55 percent of Republicans. As Marijuana Moment reported last week, a Data for Progress and the Justice Collaborative Institute poll showed that a majority of Republicans even supported the MORE Act.
Along with being a pathway to federal decriminalization of cannabis, the MORE Act has been touted for other even more pointed social justice implications. The MORE Act would require federal courts to expunge past records and request re-sentencing hearings. Public benefits would no longer be denied to recipients based on possession and other cannabis-related convictions. It also seeks to use the proceeds of a proposed cannabis sales tax of five percent to create an Opportunity Trust Fund that would finance grants, loans and socio-economic programs for communities impacted the most by the racist War on Drugs.
Black people in the United States are 3.6 times more likely to be arrested for cannabis-related crimes than white people, according to a report by the American Civil Liberties Union. Further, an analysis by the Washington Post released this week found that Black people comprise 90 percent of cannabis-related arrests in Washington D.C., despite similar usage rates among people of all races.
It is likely that the MORE Act will receive a vote in the House in November.
Photo illustration from Kathy Wyche