Top House Democrat Announces Federal Marijuana Legalization Vote Details
A congressional vote on a bill to federally legalize marijuana will take place in about three weeks, the second highest ranking Democrat in the chamber informed members on Monday.
Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) said in a “Dear Colleague” letter that the upcoming month is going to be packed with various legislative objectives, including a vote on the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act—which will hit the floor during the week of September 21.
“I’m pleased to bring the MORE Act to the House Floor next month to decriminalize marijuana at the federal level,” Hoyer told Marijuana Moment. “This legislation is an important step to correct the disproportionate impact our criminal justice system has had on communities of color.”
The letter states that the bill will “help restore justice to millions by decriminalizing marijuana and expunging records of nonviolent federal cannabis convictions.”
Marijuana Moment first reported in July about imminent plans to vote on the legislation. That was confirmed by Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-SC) last week.
The MORE Act, introduced by Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) last year, cleared his panel and was referred to several other committees. It’s not clear whether those committees will waive jurisdiction or mark up the bill in order for it to get a full chamber vote.
The bill would federally deschedule cannabis, expunge the records of those with prior marijuana convictions and impose a federal five percent tax on sales, revenue from which would be reinvested in communities most impacted by the drug war.
It 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.
In a letter to House leadership earlier this month, a coalition of major drug policy and civil rights organizations—including the American Civil Liberties Union, NAACP, Human Rights Watch, Drug Policy Alliance (DPA)—called for a floor vote on the MORE Act by the end of September.
If the House approves the bill, there will still be an open question about whether the Republican-controlled Senate would follow suit. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is a strong advocate for hemp, but he’s maintained steadfast opposition to broader marijuana reform. That said, he did hold closed-door meetings with industry representatives last year.
It’s possible the House action could spur the Senate to take up a more dialed back piece of cannabis reform legislation such as the Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States (STATES) Act, however. That bill, which is sponsored by Sens. Cory Gardner (R-CO) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), would simply allow states to set their own marijuana policies without fear of federal intervention.
Gardner could use that legislative win as he trails behind former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) in his reelection race. What’s more, President Trump has expressed support for the proposal.
The vote on the MORE Act will not be the first time the House has taken up cannabis reform on the floor this Congress.
The chamber approved a coronavirus relief package in May that includes provisions to protect banks that service state-legal marijuana businesses from being penalized by federal regulators. It also approved the standalone Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act last year.
Advocates were disappointed after lawmakers declined to include marijuana legalization as part of a recent policing reform bill the House passed. Several legislators made the case that it was an appropriate vehicle for the policy change, as ending cannabis criminalization would minimize police interactions.
A Democratic senator recently said that legalization would be a 2021 priority if Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and his running mate Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) are elected.
That said, legalization is decidedly not a Biden priority, as the former vice president has maintained an opposition to the broad reform despite supermajority support among Democrats. He’s drawn the line at cannabis possession decriminalization, medical marijuana legalization, expungements and modest rescheduling.
Harris, meanwhile, is the lead Senate sponsor of the MORE Act.
The Democratic National Committee’s platform committee recently rejected an amendment that would’ve added legalization as a 2020 party plank. Some advocates suspect that’s because the party didn’t want to adopt a policy at odds with the agenda of their presidential nominee.
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Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.