House to Hold Historic Cannabis Decriminalization Vote

September 1, 2020
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer confirmed the U.S. House of Representatives will vote in September on the MORE Act, which seeks to decriminalize cannabis and remove it from the Controlled Substances Act (CSA).
“The House will take up Chairman Nadler’s MORE Act to help restore justice to millions by decriminalizing marijuana and expunging records of nonviolent federal cannabis convictions,” Hoyer wrote in a “Dear Colleague” note to the House, shared with Cheddar on Monday.
Hoyer’s correspondence, which outlined September’s packed legislative agenda, confirmed reports from over the weekend that the House would consider the MORE Act in the September work session.
“I’m pleased to bring the MORE Act to the House Floor next month to decriminalize marijuana at the federal level. This legislation is an important step to correct the disproportionate impact our criminal justice system has had on communities of color,” Hoyer said in a statement.
The Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act -- sponsored in the House by Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) and in the Senate by Democratic Nominee for Vice President Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) -- proposes a sweeping, social justice-focused approach to cannabis policy reform.
The bill, which wove its way through a House committee last year, calls for cannabis decriminalization and de-scheduling cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act, and contains provisions for cannabis-related conviction expungement and resentencing. It also allots funds for reinvestment into communities -- predominantly low income and communities of color -- that have been disproportionately impacted by the cannabis criminalization. The bill also seeks to reduce barriers to entry for those interested in entering the cannabis industry who may be part of those communities or who have been personally touched by punitive drug policy. 
“It might even be the first descheduling bill to make it to the [House] floor, and once it gets to the floor, I am confident we will see it voted for,” said Maritza Perez, Director of National Affairs at Drug Policy Alliance.
Hoyer’s disclosure comes just weeks after the Democratic National Convention, during which the Democratic National Committee adopted a party platform that called for medical cannabis legalization, cannabis decriminalization and rescheduling cannabis -- rather than descheduling it from the CSA -- a point many in the industry found disappointing.
“It is not where we'd like to see it, but it is at least not an outwardly bad position,” National Cannabis Industry Association spokesperson Morgan Fox said at the time. “I think that the DNC wanted to be in lockstep with their presidential candidate on pretty much every issue they possibly could be and present a unified front.”
But the MORE Act is much more than a cannabis bill. It frames cannabis descheduling and decriminalization as the means to a more socially and racially just end, thereby touching on more than one key issue for voters.
Kris Krane, president of cannabis MSO 4Front Ventures told Cheddar that although few voters likely consider cannabis among their top issues, criminal justice reform can be.
“Coming out in support of legalization of marijuana legalization is a sign to those voters you understand criminal justice reform,” he said. “I do think there would be some voters who would be moved by this issue if one party stood out over another.”
Even if the MORE Act passes through the House in a historic vote in late September, as activists like Perez expect it will, the Republican-controlled Senate still likely stands in the way of it becoming law. But Perez said incremental progress toward its approval is still valid, especially in the months leading up to an election that could result in a shift of power.
“This is how we build a path for the MORE Act to become law one day,” she said. “Once you go forward, it’s hard to [revert] back."
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