Next week, a historic vote on a bill to end the federal prohibition of marijuana will take place in the House. The legislation is sponsored by House Judiciary Committee Chairmen Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), and would remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act. The bill also sets aside funding to help those who have been negativiely impacted by the war on cannabis.
New programs would be established that offer training and legal aid for people who have been victims of prohibition enforcement. Furthermore, the bill addresses loans for small cannabis businesses owned and controlled by socially and economically disadvantaged individuals and efforts to minimize barriers to licensing and employment in the would be legal industry. Under the bill, these programs would be funded by a federal five percent tax on marijuana sales. There will be a new Cannabis Justice Office in the Department of Justice that would administer the funds and programs.
The bill establishes the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, that would provide for re-sentencing and expungement of records for people previously convicted of cannabis offenses.
What is the likelihood this bill will pass? It currently has 55 cosponsors, all but one are Democrats. This is the first of its kind type of bill and no one is sure of it’s support. However, about two months ago, the House overwhelmingly approved a bipartisan bill to increase marijuana businesses’ access to banks. One wonders how that bill could pass when marijuana is currently listed as Schedule I one on the Controlled Substances Act.
This vote is expected to be announced on Monday and take place on Wednesday. Politico reported on Saturday that Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), who is not a member of the panel, vaguely mentioned upcoming committee consideration while speaking at a conference, though she didn’t clarify that the legislation would be formally “marked up,” or voted on, a detail that sources shared with Marijuana Moment in recent days.
The planned action on the bill, which would also block federal agencies from denying public benefits or security clearances over marijuana use, follows a hearing a Judiciary subcommittee held in July that examined the connection between marijuana legalization and racial justice.
The markup will provide the opportunity for lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to file amendments to the bill, and could shed further light on an emerging divide between cannabis reform supporters who feel it is essential to address past drug war harms and equity in the cannabis industry immediately and those who believe it makes more sense to advance more limited, states’ rights-focused legislation that could stand a better chance of advancing through the Senate and to President Trump’s desk.
Those tensions surfaced both during the Judiciary hearing this summer as well as in the lead up to the House floor vote on the cannabis banking legislation. Some pro-legalization groups went so far as to ask leadership to delay the scheduled vote on the financial services bill because they took issue with what is seen as an industry-focused proposal moving ahead of one containing restorative justice provisions such as the MORE Act.
In response to those concerns, top Democrats such as Nadler and House Minority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) pledged that while they were moving ahead with the banking vote, they also saw the importance of following up by advancing cannabis legislation with a racial justice focus.
The upcoming vote on the MORE Act indicates that House leadership plans to follow through on that pledge.