The U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday approved the final rule to advance a bill to federally legalize marijuana to a floor vote, which is expected to happen on Friday.
Members on both sides of the aisle were given the chance to debate the final rule for the process to consider the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act that was approved by the House Rules Committee on Wednesday. And Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO), who served as manager of the rule for the floor debate, took the opportunity to put pressure on the Senate to finally act on cannabis reform.
That Rules Committee made in order several amendments for floor consideration and rejected others that would have placed additional restrictions on the reform measure from House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY). This is the second time in history that a chamber of Congress will be voting on ending the decades-long prohibition on marijuana.
“The House is acting again this week to urge the Senate to finally pass meaningful cannabis reform legislation,” Perlmutter said, adding that the House has passed his more incremental marijuana banking reform bill six times without seeing action in the opposite chamber.
“The House will pass the MORE Act this week,” he said. “It is clear that Congress needs to reform our broken cannabis laws to better respond to the 47 states across the country who have [legalized] some level of marijuana use.”
Earlier in the debate, Perlmutter stated definitively that it is “clear prohibition is over,” referring to the growing number of states enacting legalization.
“Today we have an opportunity to chart a new path forward on federal cannabis policy that actually makes sense. The MORE Act is about justice, safety, equity and states rights,” he said. “The time to pass the MORE Act and right the injustices in our community is now.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) echoed that point near the close of the floor debate, saying that “for far too long, failed federal drug policies have torn apart families and devastated communities of color.”
“Tragically, the communities most harmed by criminalization are benefiting the least from legal cannabis marketplaces, as prior cannabis convictions are barring too many of them from entering the industry,” she said.
“Meanwhile, more than 600,000 Americans are still arrested each year on cannabis charges, threatening to perpetuate this vicious cycle. With the MORE Act, which the Democratic House proudly passed last Congress, we take strong actions to correct these injustices,” the speaker continued. “This landmark legislation is one of the most important criminal justice reform bills in recent history—delivering justice for those harmed by the brutal, unfair consequences of criminalization, opening the doors of opportunity for all to participate in this rapidly growing industry and decriminalizing cannabis at the federal level so we do not repeat the grave mistakes of our past.”
Ahead of the floor debate on the rule, Pelosi said she is “all for” the legalization bill at a press briefing, stressing that “many states have already” enacted the policy change and so “this is consistent with is happening in many states across the country.”
“It also addresses the injustice of it because of what penalties had been before some of this decriminalization took place,” the speaker said. “There’s so many discussions that have gone on over the years about the use of marijuana or cannabis. The fact is, it exists. It’s being used. We’ve got to address how it is treated legally—and not in a way that mistreats people in the lower income scale.”
It’s important to have an equitable approach that does not create a situation where “if you’re wealthy you can be engaged in all of this, but if you’re not there are barriers to getting banking services in order to do it,” she said.
“It’s a fact of life that needed appropriate public policy to address it,” Pelosi said.
The House approved the rule covering the the MORE Act an unrelated piece of legislation dealing with insulin pricing by a vote of 219-202.
The House adopted H.Res. 1017 by a vote of 219-202. https://t.co/RA3OYgWEDD
— House Press Gallery (@HouseDailyPress) March 31, 2022
During the rule debate on the floor, Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon (D-PA) said legalization is a “rare win-win scenario for everyone—government, businesses, patients and consumers. However, the ongoing conflict between our state and federal laws creates daily legal issues for businesses, banks, doctors and consumers.”
Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) also spoke in favor of reform, noting that “public support for legalization of marijuana has surged in the past two decades.”
“We must reform the banking aspect of [the issue]. We need to open the door to research— therapeutic treatment for veterans—better banking and tax laws, and we need to help fuel the economic growth within the industry,” the congresswoman said.
Also his closing remarks, Perlmutter reiterated that Congress is “long past due for the reforms in the MORE Act.”
“We must decriminalize marijuana at the federal level and take meaningful steps to address the effects the war on drugs have had, particularly in minority and disadvantaged communities,” he said.
Republican lawmakers like Rep. Michelle Fischbach (R-MN) and Rep. John Joyce (R-PA), meanwhile, challenged Democrats for prioritizing marijuana reform, contending that Congress should instead be addressing issues like rising gas prices.
After House leadership confirmed the chamber would again be voting on the MORE Act, the majority and minority leaders of the Judiciary Committee released a nearly 500-page report on what the legislation would accomplish and outlining arguments for and against the reform.
Also, following the Rules Committee vote on Wednesday, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released a report finding that enacting the MORE Act would add billions in revenues and reduce prison costs over the next decade.
The move to hold another vote on the cannabis legalization bill comes weeks after congressional Democrats held a closed-to-press session at a party retreat that included a panel that largely centered on the reform legislation.
Insiders expect the MORE Act to pass on the floor this week, though it will likely clear the chamber in largely partisan fashion. A spokesperson for Rep. Matt Gaetz (R), the sole GOP cosponsor of the bill, told Marijuana Moment that he would vote in favor of the legislation again. He was one of five Republican members to vote “yes” on the MORE Act last session.
However, a pro-legalization GOP congressman who serves as co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, Rep. Dave Joyce (R), is set to vote against it. His office circulated a letter to other Republican offices ahead of the Rules Committee meeting offering resources on navigating cannabis policy issues but expressing opposition to the MORE Act as drafted.
Joyce separately sent a letter to Nadler last month, expressing his willingness to work with the bill sponsor on revisions to build bipartisan support.
Meanwhile, advocates and stakeholders are eagerly awaiting the formal introduction of a separate Senate legalization bill that’s being finalized by Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and colleagues. Schumer recently said the plan is to file that bill—the Cannabis Administration & Opportunity Act (CAOA)—in April.
Also in Congress, a separate bill to tax and regulate marijuana is also in play this session. Rep. Nancy Mace (R-SC) is sponsoring that legislation, and she said in a recent interview that she’s received assurances from Democratic leaders that her States Reform Act will receive a hearing following the MORE Act floor vote.
Meanwhile, on the same day that it was announced that the MORE Act would be heading to the floor again, the Senate unanimously approved a bipartisan bill meant to promote research into marijuana, in part by streamlining the application process for researchers who want to study the plant and to encourage the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to develop cannabis-derived medicines.
Congressional researchers separately released a report recently that details the challenges posed by ongoing federal prohibition and the options that lawmakers have available to address them.
Photo courtesy of Brian Shamblen.