Top representatives from a coalition of four conservative organizations are calling on Congress to federally legalize marijuana as a broad cannabis reform bill advances to a House floor vote this week.
Most of the groups are limiting their support to the major thrust of the proposal to deschedule cannabis and let states set their own policies without intervention, however, rather that embracing the full scope of the legislation that includes social equity provisions and a tax on cannabis that have been challenged by select Republican members.
Staffers for the Competitive Enterprise Institute, Institute for Liberty, Taxpayers Protection Alliance and R Street Institute sent a letter to House leadership on Wednesday that urges lawmakers to “support efforts to remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act.”
We support the MORE Act's provision to de-schedule cannabis, which would restore the right to decide how to regulate the substance to the people and their state representatives. @michelleminton @iChooseLiberty @Protectaxpayers @RSI https://t.co/RFWMkOz6td
— Competitive Enterprise Institute (@ceidotorg) December 2, 2020
A bill to accomplish that—the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act—advanced through the House Rules Committee on Wednesday. But while the organizations said they favor the the main crux of the proposal, they “oppose many aspects.”
In the letter, the groups noted that “all but two states have legalized or decriminalized cannabis in some form, properly adapting state policies to reflect the needs and opinions of their constituents” and yet “such responsive governance is hampered by the fact cannabis remains federally prohibited.”
“Congress has recognized the need to resolve this conflict for many years. Amendments to prevent federal interference in state cannabis regulation enjoy a long history of support among both House Republicans and Democrats. These measures can give states some flexibility to set policies in accordance with the will of their people. But the dual legal status of cannabis has created confusion and put the welfare of many citizens and businesses in jeopardy.”
The organizations emphasized that ongoing federal prohibition prevents marijuana businesses from accessing banking services and that criminalization leads to a number of civil liberties consequences such the loss of property rights and the ability to purchase firearms.
They also recognized that signatories “vary in our opinions on the specifics of cannabis legalization.” To that end, the R Street Institute said in a separate post on Tuesday that Congress should approve the MORE Act as written, not taking issue with any particulars.
New vote alert: Vote “Yes” on HR 3884, the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act of 2019 or the MORE Act of 2019 https://t.co/RTjgveyy5g #CJreform @JessDKelley pic.twitter.com/2lTRJuVZRr
— R Street Institute (@RSI) December 1, 2020
“The MORE Act can open the door to additional medical research, better banking and tax laws, and help fuel economic growth as we financially recover from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic,” the libertarian-leaning think tank said. “Moreover, writing from the perspective of the R Street Institute’s Criminal Justice and Civil Liberties team, we believe that this measure is critically important to supporting justice reform.”
Where the four groups agree, however, is in the sentiment that the “federal government need not endorse one [regulatory] approach or another nor condone cannabis use; it needs only to respect the states’ authority to choose how best to regulate cannabis.”
Overall, the MORE Act would remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act and expunge the records of those with prior marijuana convictions. The descheduling provisions would be retroactive.
The bill would also create a pathway for resentencing for those incarcerated for marijuana offenses, as well as protect immigrants from being denied citizenship over cannabis and prevent federal agencies from denying public benefits or security clearances due to its use.
A new Cannabis Justice Office under the Justice Department would be responsible for distributing funds providing loans for 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 industry.
While the bill still calls for the establishment of a Community Reinvestment Grant Program, a revised version advanced in committee this week would remove a line calling for it to specifically fund “services to address any collateral consequences that individuals or communities face as a result of the War on Drugs.”
Proposed amendment from Reps. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) and Justin Amash (L-MI) that were not made in order for floor consideration on Wednesday would have stripped the legislation of the social equity provisions that this coalition did not specifically endorse.
In any case, Gaetz and two other Republican congressmen have signaled that they will be voting in favor of the MORE Act when it comes up for a floor vote.