US House passes historic bill to legalize marijuana at federal level, but Senate looms
In a groundbreaking vote, the U.S. House of Representatives on Friday passed a comprehensive bill that would remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act and end the federal government’s decades-old prohibition on the plant.
Lawmakers in effect voted to legalize marijuana by approving the social justice-focused Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act by a margin of 228-164 after an hour of debate. A handful of Republicans voted for the measure. (How each legislator voted is available here.)
The vote – while largely symbolic because the bill still must pass the Senate – comes only two days after the United Nations took the historic step of reclassifying cannabis as a less dangerous drug.Opponents of the MORE Act criticized Democrats for prioritizing marijuana during the coronavirus crisis and voiced concerns about health risks for youth.
The legislation could potentially open up an already fast-growing, multibillion-dollar industry to billions of dollars of additional business opportunities and interstate commerce over time.
However, the vote Friday will prove to be emblematic unless Democrats gain control of the U.S. Senate by winning two run-off races in Georgia on Jan. 5.
And in the very likely event that the MORE Act dies in the Senate in the current legislative session, it would have to start over in the House in January when the new Congress convenes.
Even with a new Congress, the more conservative Senate might be resistant to such a major change in federal marijuana policy.
“I have been waiting for this historic moment for a long time. It is happening (Friday) because it has been demanded by the voters, by facts and by the momentum behind this issue,” U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer, co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus and a Democrat from Oregon, said in a statement distributed late Thursday.
The House Judiciary Committee advanced the bill a year ago in what then was seen as a landmark development.
Marijuana Business Daily asked a number of industry experts by email and over the phone about the MORE Act and its impact if it were to be enacted into law.
Here are some of the issues they discussed as well as their responses:
What’s misunderstood about the MORE Act
The measure wouldn’t create a federal licensing or federal regulatory framework. States would, however, continue to regulate marijuana as they see fit, without federal interference.
“The MORE Act decriminalizes and deschedules cannabis,” said Randal Meyer, the executive director of the Global Alliance for Cannabis Commerce.
“It would allow state-legal businesses to operate in a federally legal environment, with business-tax deductibility and access to legal processes, and permit states to set their own cannabis policy, be it total prohibition or not.”
Steve Fox, strategic adviser to the Cannabis Trade Federation, said: “The MORE Act is a wonderful piece of legislation that would end cannabis prohibition at the federal level and take some critical and much needed steps toward restorative justice. It would provide major benefits to cannabis businesses, which would become legal at the federal level.”
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