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MORE Act – House Passes Historic Cannabis Reform Bill

Posted: December 17, 2020 in News

History was made last Friday, December 4, 2020 with the passage of H.R. 3884 known as the MORE Act, by a vote of 228-164 in the US House of Representatives. The Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act of 2019, updated to the MORE Act of 2020, is the first piece of cannabis legislation to receive a Congressional vote since the 1937 Marihuana Tax Act. The MORE Act essentially reverses the 1937 Act which federally criminalized the production, possession and sale of cannabis. It signals the end of federal prohibition by removing cannabis from the Controlled Substance List of 1970 (CSA). In this article I will explain the bill and its many ramifications and the next steps in its path to becoming a bill. I will also discuss why the cannabis world is celebrating its passage.

The MORE Act

  • Removes cannabis entirely from the CSA and allows the lawmakers of each state to control cannabis usage, similar to that of alcohol. This must happen no later than 180 days after the enactment of the Act.
  • Expunges cannabis convictions of those arrested for cannabis offenses before, on or after the date that the bill becomes law. That includes committed offenses, pending cases and convictions entered for adults. For juveniles, any cannabis case since 1971 may be expunged, including the adjudication of juvenile delinquency. Anyone currently in prison for cannabis offenses may receive a sentencing review for a possible reduction in sentencing.
  • A federal excise tax of 5% would initially be imposed on cannabis products, rising to 8% during the course of the first five years after its enactment. The bill’s tax structure is complicated, taking the weight and potency of cannabis products into account. The hope is that it will be simplified as it is fine-tuned.

Allocation of Taxes

  • The Opportunity Tax Fund goes towards funding law enforcement.
  • The creation of the Office of Cannabis Justice within the Department of Justice Office of Justice Programs is responsible for administering the following grant programs:

The Community Investment Grant would fund:

  • Job training
  • Re-entry services following incarceration
  • Legal aid for civil and criminal cases, including expungement of cannabis convictions
  • Literacy programs
  • Youth recreation and mentoring programs
  • Health education programs and services
  • Administering substance use treatment services

The Equitable Licensing Program

This program would include a cannabis licensing board that would offer grants to increase equity licensure at the local level. The board would serve as an oversight body to ensure that there is an equitable distribution of licenses based on race, ethnicity, economic and gender composition of each local area in each state. Federal regulators want to make sure there is diversity in the industry through mandatory reporting of staff.
The Cannabis Opportunity Grant
The Small Business Administration (SBA) will allocate small business loans for reinvestment in those communities most affected by the decades long “War on Drugs.” The agency will no longer be allowed to discriminate against cannabis businesses looking for funding or for other business-related assistance.

Federal Public Benefits Protection
Those who receive federal public benefits, which includes public housing, will no longer be prohibited from using cannabis on the premises and they cannot be denied benefits based on their cannabis usage.

Immigration Reform
Immigrants are protected from denial of benefits, deportation and the rejection of asylum claims due to previous, current or future cannabis-related offenses.

What the MORE Act Lacks

Because the states are left to make their own decisions regarding cannabis laws, the likelihood is that conservative states will ban cannabis under their own state law. This may lead to the continued, disproportionate targeting and arrest of young black and brown consumers.
The hope is that the policy of blocking those accused of past cannabis offenses from employment in the legal market will be removed from the Act before it becomes law. If this provision is not removed, there is little hope of the creation of an equitable and fair cannabis industry, especially for those not even convicted of any crime.

Next Step For This Legislation
The current session of Congress is scheduled to adjourn on Thursday, December 10, 2020. The Congressional law stipulates that once Congress has adjourned at the end of its two-year cycle, all the bills introduced in either the Senate or the House that have not been passed and signed into law are dead. If the Senate does not pass the MORE Act, and Senate Majority Leader McConnell has already announced he will block it, this version is dead.

This is normal procedure and it typically takes years for bills to pass. The likelihood is that the MORE Act will be re-introduced for another vote at the beginning of the 117th Congress in January, 2021. If the Democrats win the two Georgia Senate seats up for election on January 5, 2021, giving the Democrats a Senate Majority, the MORE Act is much more likely to pass and be signed into law.

Why The Cannabis Community Is Celebrating

Even though this vote is essentially symbolic, it is an important first step towards creating the necessary momentum for the passage of sweeping cannabis reform laws. That is due to overwhelming public support and to the efforts of bipartisan support by House and Senate members who have been pushing for the end of cannabis prohibition for many decades.
A debt of gratitude is owed to all the cannabis crusaders who over the past 80 years risked physical harm, arrest and imprisonment to get to this point.

Finally, email your three Members of Congress and urge them to support the end of cannabis prohibition and cannabis reform.

Sources:
leafly.com, The House Passed the MORE Act. Is Weed Legal Now? Dec. 4, 2020, David Downs
leafly.com, History Made: US House of Representatives Votes to End Marijuana Prohibition, Dec. 4, 2020, Bruce Barcott
wikipedia.org, The Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act

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