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Lawmakers And Organizations React To Federal Marijuana Legalization Bill’s House Passage



With the passage of a bill to federally legalize marijuana in the U.S. House of Representatives on Friday, reactions to the development are pouring in from key lawmakers and drug policy organizations.

Friday marked the second time in history that a measure to end prohibition cleared a chamber of Congress. The Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act from House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) passed along mostly partisan lines, 220-204.

A nearly identical version of the MORE Act passed in 2020, but it stalled in the Senate. It passed through the sponsor’s panel again this session in September. Now all eyes are on the Senate, where leadership is separately preparing to introduce a legalization bill but has faced sharp criticism for delaying reform.

“We’ve been here before,” Nadler said during a press briefing following the vote on Friday. “Unfortunately, the Senate failed to act. Sometimes I think we’d be better off if we didn’t have a Senate.”

“Now I renew my calls my colleagues in the Senate to actually address this issue—and I’m hopeful that they will heed this call,” the chairman said.

Here’s how lawmakers and organizations are reacting to the MORE Act passage: 

Organizations, private sector and advocates

For additional context, here are details about the key provisions of the MORE Act: 

Nadler’s MORE Act would deschedule marijuana by removing it from the list of federally banned drugs under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA). However, it would not require states to legalize cannabis and would maintain a level of regulatory discretion up to states.

Marijuana products would be subject to a federal excise tax, starting at five percent for the first two years after enactment and rising to eight percent by the fifth year of implementation.

Nobody could be denied federal public benefits based solely on the use or possession of marijuana or past juvenile conviction for a cannabis offense. Federal agencies couldn’t use “past or present cannabis or marijuana use as criteria for granting, denying, or rescinding a security clearance.”

People could not be penalized under federal immigration laws for any cannabis related activity or conviction, whether it occurred before or after the enactment of the legalization legislation.

The bill creates a process for expungements of non-violent federal marijuana convictions.

Tax revenue from cannabis sales would be placed in a new “Opportunity Trust Fund.” Half of those tax dollars would support a “Community Reinvestment Grant Program” under the Justice Department, 10 percent would support substance misuse treatment programs, 40 percent would go to the federal Small Business Administration (SBA) to support implementation and a newly created equitable licensing grant program.

The Community Reinvestment Grant Program would “fund eligible non-profit community organizations to provide a variety of services for individuals adversely impacted by the War on Drugs…to include job training, reentry services, legal aid for civil and criminal cases (including for expungement of cannabis convictions), among others.”

The program would further support funding for substance misuse treatment for people from communities disproportionately impacted by drug criminalization. Those funds would be available for programs offering services to people with substance misuse disorders for any drug, not just cannabis.

While the bill wouldn’t force states to adopt legalization, it would create incentives to promote equity. For example, SBA would facilitate a program to providing licensing grants to states and localities that have moved to expunge records for people with prior marijuana convictions or “taken steps to eliminate violations or other penalties for persons still under State or local criminal supervision for a cannabis-related offense or violation for conduct now lawful under State or local law.”

The bill’s proposed Cannabis Restorative Opportunity Program would provide funds “for loans to assist small business concerns that are owned and controlled by individuals adversely impacted by the War on Drugs in eligible States and localities.”

The comptroller general, in consultation with the head of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), would be required to carry out a study on the demographics of people who have faced federal marijuana convictions, “including information about the age, race, ethnicity, sex, and gender identity.”

The departments of treasury, justice and the SBA would need to “issue or amend any rules, standard operating procedures, and other legal or policy guidance necessary to carry out implementation of the MORE Act” within one year of its enactment.

Marijuana producers and importers would also need to obtain a federal permit. And they would be subject to a $1,000 per year federal tax as well for each premise they operate.

The bill would impose certain packaging and labeling requirements.

It also prescribes penalties for unlawful conduct such as illegal, unlicensed production or importation of cannabis products.

The Treasury secretary would be required to carry out a study “on the characteristics of the cannabis industry, with recommendations to improve the regulation of the industry and related taxes.”

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) would be required to “regularly compile, maintain, and make public data on the demographics” of marijuana business owners and workers.

Workers in “safety sensitive” positions, such as those regulated by the Department of Transportation, could continue to be drug tested for THC and face penalties for unauthorized use. Federal workers would also continue to be subject to existing drug testing policies.

References to “marijuana” or “marihuana” under federal statute would be changed to “cannabis.” It’s unclear if that would also apply to the title of the bill itself.

On Thursday, the House held a floor debate on the rule for considering the legalization bill, prior to which Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D) said she is “all for” the measure, stressing that “many states have already” enacted the policy change and so “this is consistent with is happening in many states across the country.”

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 a Rules Committee vote on the legislation 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.

A pro-legalization GOP congressman who serves as co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, Rep. Dave Joyce (R), authored a Marijuana Moment op-ed explaining why he feels he cannot support the bill. His office had earlier circulated a letter to other Republican offices this week 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.

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