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Federal Marijuana Legalization Update

Federal Marijuana Legalization Update

The U.S. House has passed legislation removing marijuana from the federal government's schedule of controlled substances, following decriminalization laws passed in some form in 37 states. The future of the legislation in the Senate, however, remains uncertain.

The Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act was approved in the House of Representatives by a vote of 220 to 204, largely on party lines. Three Republicans, Matt Gaetz and Brian Mast of Florida, joined by Tom McClintock of California, voted in favor of the bill. Two Democrats, Chris Pappas of New Hampshire and Henry Cuellar of Texas, voted against it.

What Would The MORE Act Do?

The bill would remove cannabis from Schedule I of controlled substances, where it is currently listed alongside LSD, heroin, and Ecstasy. In addition to removing current criminal penalties for the cultivation, distribution, manufacturing, or sale of marijuana, the MORE Act allows for the regulation and taxation of marijuana sales. It would expunge federal convictions for marijuana-related offenses dating back to 1971, and assure that federal public benefits, such as student loans, as well as security clearances could not be withheld on the basis of convictions for marijuana-related offenses.

Decriminalizing cannabis at the federal level would not end criminal prosecutions for using marijuana, most of which occur in state courts. But it would put an end to the conflicts between federal laws and more lenient state laws and allow for easier financing of marijuana-related businesses.person holding up a piece of paper with a cutout in the shape of a marijuana leaf

Making remarks about the bill on the House floor, Representative Barbara Lee, a Democrat in California, argued that the law would begin to repair the damage done by the nation's 50-year-old war on drugs and its "failed policy of cannabis prohibition, which has shattered so many lives, primarily of people of color."

"Make no mistake," Representative Lee said. "This is a racial justice bill. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, Black Americans are almost four times more likely to be arrested for cannabis-related crimes than White Americans, even though Blacks and Whites have similar rates of use. Every arrest has a permanent, detrimental impact on quality of life, and can lead to major challenges in securing housing and employment."

House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler, Democrat of New York, referred to the MORE Act as "decades-overdue legislation reversing decades of failed federal policies." 

“Whatever one’s personal views may be on the use of marijuana for recreational or medical treatment,” Nadler added ,“it is unequivocally clear that the federal policy of arrest, prosecution and incarceration has been proven both unwise and unjust.”

Representative Steve Cohen, Democrat of Tennessee, cited a 50-year-old study from the Nixon administration that found that marijuana should be legalized that had been ignored by all subsequent administrations.

A number of Republicans who voted against the bill as a whole nonetheless voted in favor of two amendments to it. An amendment proposed by Representative Josh Gottheimer of New Hampshire providing $10 million to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for "research on methods and technologies law enforcement officers can use to determine whether a driver is impaired by cannabis" passed 243 to 172. An amendment proposed by Representative Conor Lamb of Pennsylvania requiring the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health to develop standards for employers to support employers in changing their policies regarding recreational marijuana use" passed 234 to 189. Lamb's amendment prioritizes changes in the rules for employers who have federal contracts.

person holding a small American flag and a marijuana leaf cutout On The Path To Legalization 

Strictly speaking, the MORE Act does not legalize cannabis nationwide. Removing marijuana from Schedule I only allows the states to pass laws legalizing it. Of course, the majority of states have already legalized medicinal and/or recreational use of cannabis.

The Act also calls for a 5-percent federal excise tax on retail sales of cannabis, increasing to 8 percent over the next three years. Taxes collected from the sale of cannabis would go into an opportunity fund to expand opportunities for minority growers, manufacturers, distributors, and retailers. The law calls for 10 percent of marijuana taxes collected to go into a fund for treating cannabis misuse. Taxes would also fund a community reinvestment program designed to help restore people who had been injured by the war on drugs. They would receive job training, health education, and literacy programs.

Can the MORE Act pass the Senate?

Even though the legislation was welcomed by Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, the measure would need 60 votes to be considered by the Senate. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina expressed some sympathy for the legalization of medicinal marijuana.

But Oklahoma Republican Senator James Lankford voiced skepticism. "The House has skipped over any hard look at the facts and is saying that just because people use it, we are going to allow it. But, in my view, legalizing the increasing use of marijuana does not make our workplaces safer, make our streets safer, or make our families stronger."

So while opposition and skepticism still remains at the federal level, hopefully this next step towards legalization receives enough bipartisan support in the Senate and opens up more doors for the cannabis industry as a whole.

Posted by Canna Business Team



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