As the House prepares to vote on a bill to federally legalize marijuana this week, the office of a key Republican congressman who supports ending federal prohibition circulated a letter to fellow GOP members on Wednesday offering guidance on the current “cannabis policy landscape” while explaining why he intends to vote against the Democratic–led reform legislation as drafted.
The letter from the office of Rep. Dave Joyce (R-OH), a co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, says he remains willing to “serve a resource for anyone looking to talk through” marijuana policy issues as the chamber gets ready for a floor vote on the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act from House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY).
This comes a month after Joyce separately sent a letter to Nadler expressing his commitment to “ending federal marihuana prohibition, enacting sensible regulations, and reversing the injustices that have resulted from nearly a century of cannabis criminalization.”
That letter to the sponsor says that the “outlook for substantial and immediate reform has grown immensely more positive since I first engaged on this issue in 2013. However, it remains clear that at this juncture, any effort on cannabis reform must have substantial bipartisan support to be successful.”
“Luckily, as the breadth of cannabis related legislation introduced in the past year alone indicates, this is neither a Democrat nor a Republican issue. It’s a bipartisan one,” Joyce said, adding that he is “willing and ready to work with you to refine the MORE Act so that it can garner adequate bipartisan support.”
It does not appear that the offer was taken up, as the newer letter from Joyce’s office to GOP congressional staff makes clear that, from his perspective, the MORE Act in its current form is unworkable. The bill has remain mostly unchanged, but for a few technical amendments, since it was reintroduced last year.
“As the Cannabis Caucus Republican Co-Chair, Congressman Joyce wants to be sure all GOP offices are equipped with any cannabis information they need,” the letter says. “Congressman Joyce is opposed to the MORE Act for a few reasons.”
Those reasons include opposition to provisions of the MORE Act that “would punish those who have made a point to operate legally at their own personal cost, by placing an additional tax on legal operators to pay for the cost of industry access for illegal operators.”
This appears to refer to components of Nadler’s bill that are meant to allocate portions of cannabis tax revenue to promoting participation in the industry by communities disproportionately impacted by prohibition—an equity concept that has been routinely touted by many advocates as a key component of any legislation to legalize marijuana.
Joyce’s office also said the congressman takes issue with what is described as a lack of a “responsible regulatory framework upon ending federal prohibition.”
The letter states that, “if [the MORE Act is] enacted, individual states would be left to sort out issues typically reserved for federal agencies, such as labeling requirements and safety instructions.”
It also addresses GOP members who are interested in engaging on marijuana policy issues but oppose the MORE Act, pointing them to legislation Joyce sponsored titled the Common Sense Cannabis Reform Act. That bill would federally deschedule cannabis and direct federal agencies to regulate marijuana similar to how they treat alcohol, among other provisions.
That legislation is “the only Republican-led comprehensive cannabis reform bill that does not include any MORE Act provisions,” the letter says, seemingly contrasting it with a GOP-led legalization bill sponsored by Rep. Nancy Mace (R-SC) that does include some components that are similar to the MORE Act.
Both GOP-led bills, like the MORE Act, however, would deschedule cannabis.
“As the Republican leader on this issue, Congressman Joyce has worked for years to educate his Republican colleagues on cannabis reform,” Katherine Sears, communications director for Joyce, said in a statement to Marijuana Moment.
“He is determined to make the conversation surrounding the MORE Act among Republicans a responsible dialogue about the inevitable end to prohibition and help other conservatives engage on this important issue,” she said. “His efforts ensure that a conservative voice in favor of cannabis reform is leading this conversation, rather than those who wish to keep our arcane and misguided federal cannabis policies in place.”
Meanwhile, the House Republican Policy Committee (RPC) also distributed a letter to GOP members on Wednesday that puts in no uncertain terms its opposition to legalizing and regulating marijuana in general.
It says that “Democrats remain silent on the negative consequences of marijuana legalization and use before the vote on the MORE Act,” citing selective research on potential health consequences of marijuana use, the impact of reform on traffic safety and more.
Both the letter from Joyce’s office and the House RPC come hours before the House Rules Committee is set to take up a litany of proposed amendments to the MORE Act, most of which are sponsored by GOP members to add various restrictions and penalties.
When the MORE Act reaches the floor, it will mark the second time in history that cannabis legalization legislation has been taken up by a full chamber of Congress. An earlier version of the bill passed the House in 2020, but stalled in the Senate. Then it passed again this session in the House Judiciary Committee.
Following the announcement that the House would again be voting on the MORE Act, the majority and minority leaders of the Judiciary Committee then released a nearly 500-page report on what the legislation would accomplish and outlining arguments for and against the reform.
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.
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.
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.
Read the full text of the letter from Joyce’s office:
Subject: MORE on the floor
With the MORE Act vote coming up I wanted to touch base again here to reiterate our office’s willingness to serve a resource for anyone looking to talk through the cannabis policy landscape. As the Cannabis Caucus Republican Co-Chair, Congressman Joyce wants to be sure all GOP offices are equipped with any cannabis information they need. Congressman Joyce is opposed to the MORE Act for a few reasons including:
- MORE includes provisions that would punish those who have made a point to operate legally at their own personal cost, by placing an additional tax on legal operators to pay for the cost of industry access for illegal operators.
- MORE fails to include a responsible regulatory framework upon ending federal prohibition – if enacted individual states would be left to sort out issues typically reserved for federal agencies, such as labeling requirements and safety instructions.
For any Republicans who do want to engage on cannabis reform but also don’t like the MORE Act, I’d flag my boss’s bill, H.R. 3105 – Common Sense Cannabis Reform Act. This is the only Republican-led comprehensive cannabis reform bill that does not include any MORE Act provisions.
In addition to info on this bill I’ve attached a document that includes more info on my boss’s perspective on MORE for anyone interested. Again, we’re happy to help talk through MORE or any other cannabis policy that your boss is interested in ahead of the vote this week.
Here’s the full text of Joyce’s letter to MORE Act sponsor Nadler:
Dear Chairman Nadler,
As a Republican co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, I remain committed to ending
federal marihuana prohibition, enacting sensible regulations, and reversing the injustices that
have resulted from nearly a century of cannabis criminalization. The outlook for substantial and
immediate reform has grown immensely more positive since I first engaged on this issue in 2013.
However, it remains clear that at this juncture, any effort on cannabis reform must have
substantial bipartisan support to be successful. Luckily, as the breadth of cannabis related
legislation introduced in the past year alone indicates, this is neither a Democrat nor a
Republican issue. It’s a bipartisan one. With nearly seven out of ten Americans in agreement that
Congress must reform our nation’s arcane cannabis laws, there is respectfully no more time to
waste with legislative proposals which stand little to no chance for Senate floor consideration, let
alone majority consensus. Everyday this committee wastes promulgating what may be ideal – yet
is irrefutably unrealistic – policy, millions of Americans suffer. I therefore stand willing and
ready to work with you to refine the MORE Act so that it can garner adequate bipartisan support.
David P. Joyce
Here’s the full text of the House RPC letter:
While Democrats remain silent on the negative consequences of marijuana legalization and use before the vote on the MORE Act, researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital recently published a study regarding medical use of marijuana and found that:
· Patients in the study using marijuana to treat pain, anxiety, and depression failed to report improved symptoms, and the use of marijuana brought risk of addiction known as cannabis abuse disorder (CUD). However, there was improvement in self-reported sleep quality for those with insomnia.
· After 12 weeks of cannabis use, MGH found that the odds of developing CUD were two times higher in the control group allowed to obtain a medical marijuana card compared to those who were not.
Further data from states’ legalization of marijuana demonstrate the following:
· In states with legalized marijuana, there are more marijuana-related emergency room visits and hospitalizations as well as higher rates of marijuana-related driving fatalities.
· For example, in Colorado from 2013-2017, emergency room visits related to marijuana increased 54% and hospitalizations increased 101%. In Alaska, hospitalizations increased 45%.
· In Colorado, there was a 25% increase in CUD among 12–17-year-olds.
· The National Institute on Drug Abuse found that about 30% of marijuana users have some form of use disorder.
Rather than ignoring the consequences of legalizing marijuana like increased risk of CUD and hospitalizations, Congress should consider this medical study as well as results in other states.
Photo courtesy of Brian Shamblen.