The word of the day on Friday was “comprehensive.”
The Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, the most comprehensive cannabis reform legislation to advance in Congress this spring, passed by a final vote of 220-204 on Friday. The MORE Act already cleared the House once, back in 2020. But, much like other cannabis legislation, it stalled in the Senate, which is likely to remain its fate this time around.
The bill would remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act, where it has remained in the strictest category since the passage of the Act fifty years ago. And while the MORE Act would end the federal criminalization of cannabis, states would maintain some control, much in the way that some states and localities remain dry when it comes to alcohol.
The bill would also provide a path for expungement of some cannabis records and would also create services specifically for people and communities harmed by the disproportionate enforcement of cannabis laws.
“The bill was designed to help individuals who have been caught up in the criminal justice system for possessing more small amounts of marijuana for personal use. It was not designed to help drug traffickers,” Texas Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee said during Friday’s debate ahead of the vote.
Today, a total of 18 states and Washington, D.C. and Guam have legalized cannabis for adult use, and a majority of states have legalized cannabis for some type of medical use.
A Pew poll published last November shows that two-thirds of Americans support adult use cannabis legalization.
The bill’s hearing comes at a somewhat complicated time for cannabis debates in Congress, as Cannabis Wire has reported. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is expected to release the highly-anticipated language of a more comprehensive reform proposal, the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act. Two other bills have the potential for progress this Congressional session, too: Republican Rep. Nancy Mace’s States Reform Act, which would take a more business-friendly approach to legalization than the Schumer bill, and the Secure and Fair Enforcement Act, also known as the SAFE Banking Act, which would allow banking institutions to work more directly with cannabis businesses.
“If you agree that states’ rights are important, you ought to support this bill,” Rep. James McGovern, chair of the House Rules Committee, said during the committee’s consideration of the bill this week.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer also spoke about the disproportionate arrests of people of color, and how those records serve as barriers for life advancement, from job opportunities to housing.
“This is an important piece of legislation. How do I know that? Because the people have told us that. Every time they’ve had the opportunity to vote in America, they have voted to do this,” Hoyer said.
Another topic that came up several times during the House debates this week was that with so much going on in the world, including inflation and the Russian invasion of Ukraine, why should lawmakers spend time on cannabis legislation?
“I’m tired of hearing this argument that, ‘oh my goodness, we’re doing this, we ought to be doing something else.’ We are all working on the issues of great concern not only to us, but to the global community,” Hoyer said.
Two of three amendments were adopted ahead of the final vote. The first would give $10 million to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to study how best to determine cannabis-impaired driving; the potential for an increase in cannabis-impaired driving was a topic of repeated discussion during the debates. The second calls for two studies on the impacts of legalization: one on the workplace and the other on youth. A third amendment, having to do with security clearances, was rejected.