Historic Vote: U.S. House Overturns Cannabis Prohibition

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, H.R. 3884, made history today as members of the House of Representatives voted 228–164 in favor of repealing cannabis prohibition. The vote marks the first time since marijuana was made federally illegal that a chamber of Congress has considered ending federal cannabis prohibition.

“The symbolic and historical importance of the MORE Act passing in the House cannot be overstated,” said Aaron Smith, co-founder and chief executive officer for the National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA). “This vote stands as a rebuke of failed and harmful prohibition policies and represents a growing understanding of their racially and economically disparate impacts. Americans are increasingly ready to see cannabis legal for adults and sensibly regulated, which they showed through their representatives today and at the ballot box last month.”

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If enacted as currently written, the MORE Act would remove marijuana from the list of scheduled substances under the Controlled Substances Act; eliminate criminal penalties for manufacturing, distribution, and possession; expunge low-level marijuana convictions; block federal agencies from denying public benefits or security clearances due to cannabis use; allow Veterans Administration physicians to recommend medical cannabis; and impose a 5-percent federal excise tax, among other things.

“This is a historic day for marijuana policy in the United States,” said NORML Political Director Justin Strekal. “This vote marks the first time in 50 years that a chamber of Congress has ever revisited the classification of cannabis as a federally prohibited substance and sought to close the rapidly widening chasm between state and federal marijuana policies.

“By establishing this new trajectory for federal policy, we expect that more states will revisit and amend the archaic criminalization of cannabis, establish regulated consumer marketplaces, and direct law enforcement to cease the practice of arresting over half a million Americans annually for marijuana-related violations—arrests which disproportionately fall upon people of color and those on the lower end of the economic spectrum,” Strekal added.

Going beyond legalization, the MORE Act would also establish a Cannabis Justice Office to oversee funds and grants intended to support individuals most adversely impacted by the war on drugs, including an Opportunity Trust Fund and a Community Reinvestment Grant Program—programs desperately needed in the cannabis industry’s efforts toward social equality and reparations for decades of racially motivated harms. Though some say the act does not go far enough.

“Although Minority Cannabis Business Association (MCBA) supports and applauds the social equity provisions including the expungement of records and the establishment of an Opportunity Trust Fund and the Cannabis Justice Office, we have grave concerns over the provisions in this bill that we believe would have an immediate chilling effect on individual members in our community and minority business owners more broadly,” MCBA said in a statement. “Representatives [Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) and Barbara Lee (D-Calif.)] have been unwavering champions not only for cannabis policy reform, but for those who have been most impacted by cannabis prohibition and the broader war on drugs. However, the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act secured victory through a potential cost to impacted individuals and communities.

“Economic justice for those who have been deprived of basic rights and opportunities due to the unjust enactment and enforcement of cannabis laws must be central to federal cannabis policy. Whether through messaging bills like the MORE Act, or the ultimate federal cannabis framework, the voice of those most harmed must be present, heard, and honored. The absence of their voice will continue to yield results like the amended version of the MORE Act passed today—an incomplete representation of equity and justice,” the statement read.

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