By LeeWEpstein

December 7, 2020

The U.S. House of Representatives approved last Friday a bill to legalize cannabis at the federal level. The bill was approved by a vote of 228 to 164, with 5 Republicans supporting the reform and 6 Democrats opposing it.

The MORE Act or federal legalization of cannabis 

The Marijuana Appropriateness, Reinvestment, and Delisting Act (MORE Act) would remove cannabis from the list of federally controlled substances.

As currently structured, the MORE Act would ensure that cannabis would be taxed federally at 5% for the first two years after implementation, then increased by 1% each year to 8%. After five years, taxes would be applied to cannabis products based on weight rather than price.

The bill would also open up reconsideration options for people incarcerated for cannabis offenses, protect immigrants from being denied citizenship for cannabis, and prevent federal agencies from denying public benefits or security clearances because of its use.

A new Office of Cannabis Justice within the Department of Justice would be responsible for distributing funds providing loans to small cannabis businesses owned and controlled by socially and economically disadvantaged individuals. The bill also seeks to minimize barriers to licensing and employment in the legal sector.

It would also establish a community reinvestment grant program. Taxpayers’ money allocated to this program would be used for job training, legal aid for criminal and civil matters such as cannabis amnesties, literacy programs, or recreational and mentoring services for youth, among others.

What’s next?

After the House votes in favor of legalization, the bill must go through a Republican-controlled Senate at least until early January. Vice President-elect Kamala Harris is the main sponsor of the complementary version of the bill in the Senate.

The historic nature of a vote in favor of federal legalization of cannabis should not be set aside. While the House has already twice approved amendments to protect state cannabis laws from federal interference, amendments that were not subsequently held up in the Senate, never before has legislation to formally remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act been proposed at this level.

Before the passage of the bill, much of the debate centered on the argument that the reform would help redress the wrongs of a racist war on drugs. Republicans, on the other hand, argued that legalization would harm children and public safety and that this was not the right time to consider the issue.

In our country, thousands of men and women have suffered needlessly from the federal criminalization of cannabis, particularly in communities of color, and have borne the burden of collateral consequences for those trapped in criminal justice systems that have damaged our society over generations,” said Representative Sheila Jackson Lee in her opening remarks. This is unacceptable. and we need to change our laws. It’s time for Congress to catch up with the reforms that states are passing. 

 

Representative Matt Gaetz, the bill’s sole Republican sponsor, said that if he believes the bill is “flawed,” he is voting for it “because the federal government has been lying to the people of this country about cannabis for a generation. 

We’ve seen a generation, particularly of black youth, locked up for offenses that should not have resulted in any incarceration,” he said.

Representative Earl Blumenauer, one of the co-chairs of the Cannabis Caucus and a long-time advocate for cannabis reform, gave a passionate speech in support of the bill.

We are not rushing to legalize cannabis,” he said. “The American people are ready to do so. We are here because Congress has failed to deal with the disastrous war on drugs and to do its job for the more than 50 million regular cannabis users [who live] in each of your districts. 

It’s time for Congress to step in and do its job,” he said. We need to catch up with the rest of the American people. 

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