by Bridget Hennessey, Vice President for Government Relations at Weedmaps
The U.S. House of Representatives on Friday passed the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act (the MORE Act) by a vote of 228–164, largely along party lines. But six Democrats voted against it; and five Republicans voted for it — along with the sole Libertarian in the House.
Passage of the bill in the House has been heralded as “historic” — as it was the first cannabis legalization bill to make it to the floor of Congress.
But history is written by the winners. And the MORE Act hasn’t won yet. Although it passed in the House, there is little chance it will pass the Senate and become law of the land. So Friday’s victory was primarily symbolic.
That’s okay. In politics, symbolism can be useful. And effective.
Add the House passage of the MORE Act with last month’s Election Day cannabis victories: a clean sweep in the five state-wide ballots and the three-dozen local ballot measures in California, the legal cannabis capital of the world.
Then don’t forget the record level support for cannabis legalization recently announced by the Gallup organization. Or that cannabis got a major credibility bump when governors deemed it “essential” in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. The message from Governors — Democrats and Republicans alike — was clear: Cannabis is medicine.
And then: Earlier this week, the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs removed cannabis from its schedule of dangerous drugs. This could easily spark legalization efforts across the globe. And why wouldn’t it? US cannabis sales are expected to topple $19 billion this year. That’s impressive, since that national number doesn’t include the entire nation — more than a dozen states ban any type of meaningful legal cannabis sales. So there is even more economic potential ahead.
All these are symbolic of an impressive record-of-achievement, of what “can be” when it comes to cannabis. It’s symbolic of economic opportunity, and a reassurance that the sky doesn’t fall when cannabis is legalized.
This is good stuff to lay before an incoming presidential administration — especially one whose proposed or implied cannabis policy agenda would benefit from clarity, best practices, public support and political cover.
Besides, the MORE Act could be better. It should be better. And we can make it better.
Last minute tinkering diluted it in some places, and murked it up in others. We now have the time, experience and, arguably the mandate and political capital, to do it right.
The MORE Act basically ends federal prohibition by removing cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act. That decriminalizes it, and empowers states to make their own policies. It creates federal-state oversight of cannabis programs, but does not require states to legalize.
Access to capital has long been a huge impediment to industry growth. Under the bill, entrepreneurs will be able to secure loans from the U.S. Small Business Administration. The MORE allows cannabis businesses to bank just like every other business. It also promotes needed research.
Beyond that, it’s a mixed bag, as the devil in the details show. Do important components of the MORE Act go far enough?
The MORE Act allows the U.S. Veterans’ Administration to prescribe cannabis to qualified veterans that live in states where medical cannabis is legal. But are the qualifying conditions as expansive as they need to be? Are veterans living in non-legal states being short-changed?
MORE incentivizes states to move forward with expungement policies that have disproportionately affected minority communities and often prevents them from obtaining cannabis industry jobs because of low-level cannabis convictions. Are the eligibility requirements broad enough?
The tax and regulatory structure that is included in the legislation is designed to allow the free market to thrive. But if those provisions are overly burdensome, the illicit market will thrive as a result. And individuals disproportionately harmed by the failed war on drugs may not enjoy the full benefits of a legal industry if the criteria for where tax dollars are appropriated are too narrow.
The MORE Act is landmark legislation, without a doubt. It can be a road map for even better legislation. We can do that. We just need to do MORE.