The House of Representatives finally voted to end federal prohibition of cannabis on Friday, December 4. After multiple delays, the highly anticipated and historic vote for the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act fell mainly along party lines, 228-164.
Five Republicans crossed party lines to vote for the MORE Act, including the lone Republican co-sponsor of the bill, Rep. Matt Gaetz. Six Democrats voted against the bill. Despite its historical significance, the vote was largely symbolic, as the bill is not expected to make it past Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s desk.
In a joint statement, the American Civil Liberties Union and Drug Policy Alliance applauded the vote and reflected on the historic nature of the bill and implications for social justice.
“Today’s vote on the MORE Act made history. Not only was it the first time a chamber of Congress has ever voted on and approved legislation to deschedule marijuana, it proves to lawmakers that we must continue to center equity and reparative justice when shaping drug policy,” said Maritza Perez, director of Drug Policy Alliance’s Office of National Affairs.
Not only would the MORE Act remove cannabis from Schedule I of the U.S. Controlled Substances Act, it would allow for a number of social justice measures, including a cannabis tax for investment in minority communities, expungement of past records and eligibility for public benefits.
“We’re here because we have failed three generations of Black and Brown young people, whose lives can be ruined, or lost, by selective enforcement of these laws. This legislation will end that disaster,” said Rep. Earl Blumenauer, co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus and co-sponsor of the bill.
The MORE Act was first introduced in July 2019 by Rep. Jerry Nadler, and was met by multiple delays, most recently in September at the request of moderate Democrats who feared the vote before the election might chip away at their electability. But the November election was overwhelmingly positive for cannabis legislation and five states had pot on the ballot. New Jersey, Montana and South Dakota legalized cannabis for adult use, while Mississippi approved medicinal cannabis. Going one step further, Oregon decriminalized all drugs and Washington D.C. decriminalized psychedelic plants.
While some Republicans invoked decades-old and long-debunked fear mongering about cannabis (suggestions that it is addictive, bad for one’s health and that mainstream acceptance will enable more children to use it), Republicans’ main argument against the MORE Act was something they have argued for months: The vote is untimely given that a second coronavirus relief package has yet to be passed.
The Republicans have of course, been central to delaying coronavirus relief and limiting the scope of that relief and have used this talking point before. In the spring, Mitch McConnell mocked the HEROES Act for including language that would make it easier for cannabis companies to receive support from banks.
The Congressional Budget Office, a nonpartisan federal agency that provides budget and economic information to Congress, and the Joint Committee on Taxation, which consists of members from the House and Senate, estimated that the MORE Act will “increase revenues, on net, by about $13.7 billion…by creating business income, compliance, and occupational taxes.” and reduce the national deficit by $7 billion over the next 10 years.
Cannabis advocacy group National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) celebrated the passage and historic nature of the bill but acknowledged there is a lot more work to be done.
“By going on the record with this vote, House members have set the stage for a much-needed legislative showdown in 2021 when we will have the Biden administration in office — one that has publicly expressed an appetite for advancing the restorative justice remedies outlined in the MORE Act. We are primed and ready for this legislative debate and we expect, ultimately, to win it,” said NORML Executive Director Erik Altieri in a statement.
More than two-thirds of American support cannabis legalization, according to the polling organization Pew Research Center.
Illustration by Kathy Wyche