U.S. House of Representatives passes decriminalization bill; UN votes to reclassify cannabis

The MORE Act’s next stop is the Republican-controlled Senate

Earlier this week, the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs voted to reclassify cannabis. The vote moved cannabis out of a category reserved for the most dangerous drugs. Photo by Yana Tatevosian/iStock/Getty Image Plus.

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MORE Act passes

Today (December 4), the United States House of Representatives voted in favour of decriminalizing cannabis at the federal level.

The lower house of the U.S. Congress voted on the MORE Act of 2019. Also known as House Resolution 3884, the bill “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 passed in a vote that saw 228 in favour and 164 opposed. Those who supported the MORE Act were primarily Democrats. However, five Republicans and the lone Independent member voted to pass the bill, while six Democrats voted no.

It won’t be smooth sailing for the bill from here on in, though. As anyone who remembers Schoolhouse Rock could tell you, the bill’s next stop is the Republican-controlled Senate.

Moreover, groups on both sides of the cannabis-legalization debate have been lobbying Congress to vote against the legislation.

Opposition from the AMA

Unsurprisingly, one of these is the American Medical Association. The AMA has long taken an anti-cannabis position. On December 2, AMA Executive Vice-President and CEO James L. Madara sent a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy.

In the letter, Madara voiced support for the Cannabidiol and Marihuana Research Expansion Act. That bill would facilitate further research on CBD and cannabis. It would also streamline the development of CBD-based drugs.

“It is the AMA’s position that cannabis is a dangerous drug and as such is a serious public health concern,” Madara wrote. “We oppose legalizing the sale of cannabis for adult use and support stronger public health messaging on the health effects of cannabis and cannabinoid inhalation and ingestion.”

Another layer of taxes

Some staunchly pro-cannabis voices also came out against the MORE Act. Sean Kiernan is the CEO of the Weed for Warriors Project, a California organization that works to ensure access to medical cannabis for veterans. Kiernan wrote his own letter to members of Congress, urging them to vote against the bill.

Kiernan expressed concern about provisions that would add another layer of taxes on cannabis businesses. In California, he said, state taxes are already so high that disabled vets are turning to unregulated sources for their medical weed.

“We have legalized cannabis for the privileged and we have kept illicit cannabis as the only option for too many,” Kiernan wrote, “especially disabled veterans seeking an alternative to deadly pharmaceuticals like opioids.” 

The next session

The current bill will almost certainly die this year in the Senate. A similar bill, however, could be up for a vote in the next session of Congress.

President-elect Joe Biden has voiced his support for decriminalization. But the matter of who will control the Senate once he takes office is still unclear. It all depends on two runoff races in Georgia, which will determine the majority in January.

CND votes to reclassify cannabis

Earlier this week, the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs voted to reclassify cannabis. The vote moved cannabis out of a category reserved for the most dangerous drugs.

On December 2, the CND reviewed a series of World Health Organization recommendations on cannabis and its derivatives. According to an article on the official UN news website, “the CND zeroed-in on the decision to remove cannabis from Schedule IV of the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs—where it was listed alongside deadly, addictive opioids, including heroin.”

With a vote of 27 in favour, 25 against, and one abstention, “the CND has opened the door to recognizing the medicinal and therapeutic potential of the commonly-used but still largely illegal recreational drug,” the UN News article states.

Vote is an important first step

This vote won’t affect individual countries’ drug policies. However, many see it as an important first step toward recognition of cannabis’s medical usefulness. The Toronto-based PharmaCielo Ltd., for example, issued a statement in support of the commission’s vote.

“We welcome the CND’s vote as it represents a monumental step forward in the evolution of the global medicinal cannabis industry. We also congratulate the entire medical cannabis community for its belief in the efficacy and positive impact cannabis will have on human wellness and health, and its relentless efforts to have it de-scheduled,” said Henning von Koss, CEO of PharmaCielo.

“From our perspective, this vote enables global providers and consumers of cannabinoid extracts to confidently move into a positive new environment where the bar for quality and compliance, as well as the standardization of products and formulations, will be set much higher,” von Koss said.

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