Cannabis Legalization Bill Passes House Committee for First Time in History!
Federal cannabis legalization took a monumental step forward yesterday with the passage of the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act of 2019. The U.S. House Judiciary Committee approved the sweeping cannabis reform bill by a vote of 24-10. The bill is being hailed as an equivalent measure to the federal legalization of hemp last December.
While this is encouraging news for cannabis advocates, according to MJ Biz Daily the bill is unlikely to reach the full House for consideration and subsequent voting until 2020, at the earliest. And even if the bill were to pass the House, the Republican-controlled Senate is seen as a more formidable barrier to passage prior to the 2020 elections. The bill does have presence in the Senate as California Democrat Kamala Harris is carrying the bill.
Are There Other Cannabis Reform Bills Being Proposed?
Republican lawmakers have argued that, rather than passing the MORE Act they would prefer rather to expand upon the STATES Act, which they argue has more bi-partisan support in Congress. Generally speaking, the STATES Act would fully protect state-legal marijuana programs from federal interference, as the only barrier between state programs and the federal government at this moment is "the Cole Memorandum", a memo issued in 2013 by United States Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole that stated the Justice Department would not enforce federal marijuana prohibition in states that have legalized marijuana in some form.
In addition to removing cannabis from the federal Controlled Substances Act, the MORE Act would allow states to continue to have control over how to regulate a commercial marijuana industry.
Furthermore, the MORE Act would institute a 5% federal retail sales tax on cannabis products. The tax revenue would be utilized to empower the individuals and communities that have been hit the hardest by the War on Drugs. Among other things, the revenue would pay for job training and small-business loans and to minimize barriers to marjiuana legalization in response to the trend of multi-state operators controlling a majority of cannabis entities.
What to Expect Next
There is still much work that needs to be done before the MORE Act will be voted on by the full House and, if passed, the Senate. While House Judiciary Chair Jerrold Nadler, a Democrat from New York who introduced the comprehensive reform bill in July, stated at a news conference that the bill could be passed by the full House in the current congressional session, which ends on Jan. 3, 2021 after the 2020 elections, there are at least seven other committees that have jurisdiction that can slow the process down.
The main component of disagreement seems to stem from the distribution of the tax revenue from cannabis sales. While Tom McClintock, a Calfornia Republican, has argued that half of the revenues should go to the federal government and the other half to local law enforcement, Matt Gaetz of Florida argues that the bill is being "rushed" without bi-partisan support.
It is important to note that, while Republicans hail the STATES Act over the MORE Act, the MORE Act is the more comprehensive bill of the two. The MORE Act would do the following and more:
Cannabis would be removed from the Controlled Substances Act
Institute a 5% tax to help individuals incarcerated during the War on Drugs transition back into society, receive treatment if needed, and would fund programs to help those disproportionately harmed start businesses
Create non-discrimination protections for marijuana use or possession, and for prior convictions
Prohibit the denial of any federal public benefit based on cannabis use or convictions
Cannabis use will have no adverse impact under the immigration laws
Unfortunately, the issue of gun ownership was not addressed in the MORE Act, although it is possible it can be tacked on as the bill progresses through Congress.
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