Congress Approves Marijuana Legalization Bill

In a surprising turn of events, a key Congressional committee, the House Judiciary Committee, has voted to approve the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act of 2019

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Marijuana Legalization Bill
Congress Approves Marijuana Legalization Bill

In a surprising turn of events, a key Congressional committee, the House Judiciary Committee, has voted to approve the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act of 2019, or H.R. 3884, which would effectively put an end to cannabis prohibition in the United States of America, on a federal level by removing it from the Controlled Substances Act.

The bill also stipulates the potential expungement of certain federal cannabis convictions—with expenses being covered by a small excise tax imposed on the legal cannabis industry, as well as the creation of a Cannabis Justice Office focused on reinvesting resources into communities most affected by prohibition. Finally, if fully passed, the law would allow the Small Business Administration to issue loans and grants to marijuana-related businesses, and provide a green light for physicians  in the Veterans Affairs system to prescribe medical cannabis to patients, as long as they abide by state specific laws.

The bill, introduced by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) passed with bipartisan support in a 24 to 10 vote. This is the first time in American history the public has seen a congressional committee pass a legalization bill. As reported by Marijuana Moment, two Republicans voted in favor of this bill: Reps. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) and Tom McClintock (R-CA).

A Good First Step

Maria McFarland Sánchez-Moreno, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance explained that, with the markup of the MORE Act on Wednesday, the United States of America is “coming one step closer to ending the devastating harms of marijuana prohibition, which have fallen so heavily on Black and Brown people.”

In her view, this piece of legislation alone “won’t make up for the full scale of harm that prohibition has caused to its victims. It’s not going to return anyone their lost dreams, time lost at the mercy of the criminal justice system; or the years spent away from their families.”

However, this is a good first step. This bill is “the closest we’ve come yet to not only ending those harms at the federal level, but also beginning to repair them,” McFarland Sánchez-Moreno added, explaining it is now up to the U.S. Congress to “do the right thing and swiftly pass the bill to ensure justice is not delayed a moment longer.”

The bill currently counts on the support of more than 50 cosponsors.

Watch the live markup below, and read about the diverse markups already introduced into the bill here.

A Long Road Ahead

The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) also celebrated the move. “When NORML was founded in 1970, only 12% of the public supported legalization. Now, we have a public mandate with majorities of Republicans, Democrats and independent voters all supporting the outright legalization of marijuana,” they said in an email. “When we raise our voices as one, there is nothing we cannot achieve.”

But there’s still a lot to do, they added. Among top priorities are ensuring enough congressional support for the bill to pass in a full House vote, to build support in the Senate, and to schedule a vote in this chamber. Nadler said he’s optimistic about these prospects but, during the markup, some Republican members of the committee said they were worried the bill is too far-fetched and would need substantial changes in order to stand a chance in a GOP-controlled Senate.

“Today’s vote marks a turning point for federal cannabis policy, and is truly a sign that prohibition’s days are numbered,” concluded Aaron Smith, executive director of the National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA). “Thanks to the diligent efforts of advocates and lawmakers from across the political spectrum, we’ve seen more progress in this Congress than ever before. Supermajority public support for legalization, increasing recognition of the devastating impacts of prohibition on marginalized communities and people of color, and the undeniable success of state cannabis programs throughout the country are all helping to build momentum for comprehensive change in the foreseeable future.”

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