U.S. House of Representatives Set to Take Historic Marijuana Legalization Vote

Leaders in the U.S. House of Representatives expect a floor vote in late September on H.R. 3884, known as the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act (MORE Act). The marijuana legalization vote could remove marijuana as a Schedule I illegal drug at the federal level.

The House Judiciary Committee passed the bill out of committee in November 2019. Rep. Jerrold Nadler, a Democrat from New York, co-sponsored the bill. He said at the time that a marijuana legalization vote is “long overdue. For far too long, we have treated marijuana as a criminal justice problem instead of a matter of personal choice and public health.”

The federal government made marijuana illegal in the 1930s. Officials added it to the list of Schedule I illegal drugs in the early 1970s under the Controlled Substances Act.

“A floor vote on the bill would be the greatest federal cannabis reform accomplishment in over 80 years,” the Global Alliance for Cannabis Commerce said in a statement about the House bill. “Descheduling is necessary for sensible cannabis policy.”

Social Justice Is A Big Part of the Bill

The MORE Act would make many changes to federal law in addition to legalizing marijuana at the federal level. Many changes seek social justice for communities of color impacted the most by the War on Drugs started by President Richard Nixon in the 1970s.

For one thing, the bill would remove the “marijuana” – a term that has been used for complicated and racist reasons in the past – and replace it with the word cannabis. The law also would:

  • Establish a trust fund to support programs and services in communities impacted by the War on Drugs
  • Establish a 5% tax that would raise funds for the trust fund
  • Require the federal government to track demographic data on cannabis business ownership
  • Establish a process to expunge criminal convictions on federal cannabis offenses and conduct sentence hearing reviews
  • Prohibit any denial of federal public benefits based on a previous cannabis-related conviction

What Happens Next

The marijuana legalization vote is expected to come up for a vote in the second half of September. In the Democrat-controlled House, it was a good chance of passing. Doing so would echo the sentiments of the American public.

The last two Gallup Polls have found that 67% of the American public supports legalization of marijuana at the federal level.

Even as voters have approved marijuana legalization in 11 states for recreational marijuana and 33 for medical marijuana, arrests have continued around the country. The Pew Research Center reported that in 2018, the latest year numbers are available, 40% of all drug arrests were for cannabis possession.

However, if passed in the House, the bill will face a tough test in the Senate, where Republicans are still the majority.

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