In what has been described as a historic moment, the US House of Representatives has voted to approve the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment, and Expungement (MORE) Act (H.R. 3617).
The MORE Act passed with a vote of 220 to 204, but will still need to be approved in the Senate to be passed into law. The vote is just the second time in 50 years that the classification of cannabis has been reconsidered in the country.
Under the MORE Act, cannabis would be removed from the Controlled Substances Act’s list of scheduled substances and would remove criminal penalties for individuals manufacturing, distributing, or possessing the plant. It would also impose an excise tax on cannabis products produced in or imported into the United States and an occupational tax on cannabis production facilities and export warehouses.
A recent Congressional Budget Office report highlights that passing the Act would increase revenues, on net, by about $8.1bn over the 2022 to 2031 period.
Senior member of the Judiciary Committee, Congressman Steve Cohen, voted in favour of the Act, stating: “It’s no secret that the war on drugs failed… Marijuana is less dangerous than alcohol… Congress has been out of step on this issue.
“It’s called ‘cultural lag.’ We’re finally coming around to re-scheduling it from Schedule 1, where it’s in a class with heroin and methamphetamines, which is absurd… We must re-schedule marijuana. We must decriminalise it at the federal level.
“Now is the time to do some remedies to federal marijuana laws. This is an historic time. Let’s move forward and do the right thing.”
To undo harms on society from the war on drugs, the Act would establish a trust fund for services and programmes to help those impacted, and establish a process to expunge past cannabis convictions, among other initiatives.
The Congressional Budget Office report highlights that passing the Act would release thousands of current inmates earlier than under current law, stating it estimates: “that over the 2022-2031 period, H.R. 3617 would reduce time served by current and future inmates by 37,000 person-years.”
American Civil Liberties Union senior policy counsel, Aamra Ahmad, stated: “We applaud the House for today’s passage of the MORE Act. For over 50 years, the failed war on drugs has deepened racial injustice, shattered neighbourhoods, and decimated communities. Though marijuana use is roughly equal among Black and white people, Black people are 3.73 times as likely to be arrested for marijuana possession.
“Eighteen states and Washington, D.C. have already legalised marijuana, yet extreme racial disparities persist and communities of colour have not benefited from legalisation, despite being targeted by the war on drugs.
“The MORE Act will tackle racial disparities head-on by decriminalising marijuana at the federal level, expunging marijuana convictions, and reducing sentences. Federal decriminalisation will give states the freedom to regulate marijuana and implement reforms — it is the right way to legalise marijuana.
“Now that the House has taken this significant step, we will fight in the Senate to pass legislation that decriminalises marijuana and implements criminal and social justice reforms that will aid communities that were most impacted by criminalisation.”
Director of the Office of National Affairs at the Drug Policy Alliance, which has been working to move the Act forward since its inception, stated: “For over half a century, marijuana prohibition has stood as the cornerstone of the cruel and inhumane drug war that has robbed millions of people of their freedom and their livelihoods.
“The weight of which has disproportionately fallen on the backs of Black, Latinx, Indigenous and low-income communities – who remain its number one target. They’ve been denied jobs, housing, educational opportunities and far more. They’ve had their families torn apart. Others have lost their immigration status. And our communities have suffered gravely as a result.
“But today, thanks to Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader Hoyer’s leadership in scheduling the MORE Act for a floor vote, we have hope that the days of this continued oppression are numbered. We urge their House colleagues to vote in favour of this bill and swiftly pass it to ensure our communities are not put on the backburner and made to wait a moment more for long-overdue justice.”