Yesterday, March 31, 2022, the House of Representatives again voted to end federal prohibition of marijuana by removing it from the list of banned substances. The bill—the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act (the MORE Act)—passed by a vote of 220-204, largely along party lines.
Next the bill goes to the Senate for approval, where its fate is murky. In 2020, a similar version of the MORE Act passed through the House but lost support before a Senate vote could take place. While passage of the MORE Act would end the federal prohibition of cannabis, legalization would still be subject to state legislation. Currently, cannabis is legal for recreational use in 19 states and legal for medical use in 36 states.
Perhaps the biggest hurdle for the MORE Act to clear is the fact that there are two competing bills regarding federal cannabis regulation. The first is the States Reform Act, introduced last year by South Carolina Representative Nancy Mace—who voted “nay” on the MORE Act. The second is the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act, a cannabis decriminalization bill sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Senators Cory Booker and Ron Wyden. The senators look to introduce their bill later this month.
There is reason to be more optimistic about Senate passage of new federal cannabis legislation—whether it is the MORE Act or the future Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act—than in 2020. When the MORE Act passed through the House of Representatives in 2020, Republicans had a firm majority in the Senate with 53 seats. After the 2020 Senate elections, Democrats won three seats previously held by Republicans, giving way to today’s 50/50 party split in the Senate. The tying vote goes to Vice President Kamala Harris, giving the Democrats a razor slim Senate majority. However, the MORE Act will require 60 votes to pass through the Senate, making passage unlikely if a vote is ever held.
There also continues to be growing momentum among states to legalize cannabis use. Since the House of Representatives voted in favor of the MORE Act in 2020, four states have legalized recreational marijuana (Connecticut, New Mexico, New York, and Virginia), and three states (Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi) have legalized medical marijuana. There has also been newfound momentum to decriminalize other substances at the municipal, state and federal levels, such as MDMA and psilocybin.
The MORE Act is sponsored by House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler of New York. Nadler claims that the passage of the bill would reverse decades of injustice, which particularly impacts communities of color adversely, as well as reduce America’s high incarceration rates. Other proponents of the bill claim that the vast majority of Americans favor some form of legalized cannabis, and that the police should focus on more important priorities. Meanwhile, opponents claim that legalized cannabis will lead to greater levels of organized crime and decriminalization will increase demand for marijuana, which will give cartels more power. Proponents respond that legalization would eliminate the cartels’ monopoly.
Passage through the House of Representatives is an encouraging, if not symbolic victory in the federal battle to legalize cannabis. It will be interesting to follow how this bill progresses through the Senate and its interplay with the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act.