Bill to decriminalize cannabis in U.S. comes up for vote in September

If the House of Representative passes the MORE Act, it still faces a vote in the Republican-controlled U.S. Senate before it can become law

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The MORE Act " removes marijuana from the list of scheduled substances under the Controlled Substances Act and eliminates criminal penalties for an individual who manufactures, distributes, or possesses marijuana". Photo by Darren415/iStock/Getty Images Plus

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Expect the United States House of Representatives to vote on a reform bill in September that would decriminalize cannabis. Don’t expect it to go much further than that this year, however.

The Democratic Party controls the House. If they pass the bill—known as the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act of 2019—it still faces a vote in the U.S. Senate before it becomes law. The Republican-controlled Senate is unlikely to pass the MORE Act before November’s federal election.

If the Democrats take the Senate in November, however, the bill has another chance of becoming law.

As CannCentral’s Charlie Smith noted in his weekly cannabis stock report, leading Democratic Party congressman Jerry Nadler cosponsored the bill in 2019 with Sen. Kamala Harris.

Harris is now the Democratic Party’s vice-presidential candidate. If Joe Biden becomes president, Harris might steer him in the direction of comprehensive cannabis-law reform.

Task force reiterated Biden’s position

As CannCentral reported in July, a criminal-justice task force created by Joe Biden’s campaign in partnership with Bernie Sanders did not push Biden to back the full legalization of cannabis at the federal level.

Basically, the task force’s report, released on July 8, reiterated the former vice-president’s existing position.

“Decriminalize marijuana use and legalize marijuana for medical purposes at the federal level,” it recommended. “Allow states to make their own decisions about legalizing recreational use. Automatically expunge all past marijuana convictions for use and possession.”

What’s in the bill?

In brief, here’s what the MORE Act does, according to the official summary authored by the Congressional Research Service:

This bill decriminalizes marijuana.

Specifically, it removes marijuana from the list of scheduled substances under the Controlled Substances Act and eliminates criminal penalties for an individual who manufactures, distributes, or possesses marijuana.

The bill also makes other changes, including the following:

  • replaces statutory references to marijuana and marihuana with cannabis,
  • requires the Bureau of Labor Statistics to regularly publish demographic data on cannabis business owners and employees,
  • establishes a trust fund to support various programs and services for individuals and businesses in communities impacted by the war on drugs,
  • imposes a 5% tax on cannabis products and requires revenues to be deposited into the trust fund,
  • makes Small Business Administration loans and services available to entities that are cannabis-related legitimate businesses or service providers,
  • prohibits the denial of federal public benefits to a person on the basis of certain cannabis-related conduct or convictions,
  • prohibits the denial of benefits and protections under immigration laws on the basis of a cannabis-related event (e.g., conduct or a conviction), and
  • establishes a process to expunge convictions and conduct sentencing review hearings related to federal cannabis offenses.

Legal status of cannabis in the U.S.

In the United States, cannabis is illegal at the federal level. Cannabis over 0.3 percent THC is classified as a Schedule I drug under the federal Controlled Substances Act of 1970. That means it is considered to have “no accepted medical use” and have a high potential for abuse and physical or psychological dependence.

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Image from the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Policies regarding the recreational and medical use of cannabis vary state to state, however. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 14 states and territories have approved adult-use cannabis. By the same token, total of 33 states, the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico, and U.S. Virgin Islands have approved publicly available medical-cannabis programs. In addition, approved efforts in 13 states allow use of “low THC, high cannabidiol (CBD)” products for medical reasons in limited situations or as a legal defense. 

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