US House Judiciary Committee Advances Bill To End Cannabis Prohibition

A bill to end the federal criminalization of cannabis has, once again, passed out of the House Judiciary Committee, clearing a key hurdle. 

After more than three hours of debate on Thursday, which at times strayed far from cannabis, covering topics like anti-vaxxers and defunding the police, the Committee voted 26-15 to advance H.R. 3617, the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act of 2021, also known as the MORE Act.

“This long overdue and historic would reverse failed federal policies criminalizing marijuana. It would also take steps to address the heavy toll this policy has taken across the country, particularly among communities of color,” House Judiciary Committee Chair Jerrold Nadler said on Thursday. “I’ve long believed that the criminalization of marijuana has been a mistake. Racially disparate enforcement of marijuana laws has only made it worse.”

Nadler reintroduced the MORE Act in May, as Cannabis Wire reported. The Act passed out of the House in December, as H.R. 3884, and while then-Senator Kamala Harris sponsored the bill in the Senate, it didn’t budge under then-Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. 

The Act is largely identical to the version that passed out of the House, and still includes provisions to expunge eligible federal cannabis convictions, reinvest in communities affected by the disproportionate enforcement of cannabis laws, and encourage equity in the industry through Small Business Administration grants, among other provisions.

A tax on cannabis products, either produced in the US or imported, would support these spending provisions. Rep. Thomas Massie, a Republican, proposed an amendment on Thursday to eliminate the language around taxation and spending.

“I applaud the Democrats for doing something which is actually popular with the majority of the public, which is to decriminalize marijuana. But unfortunately they’ve chosen to do it in a partisan way,” Massie said before introducing the amendment.

The amendment was rejected, as were a handful of other amendments brought forth by Republicans. Only two Republicans voted in favor of the bill: and Rep. Matt Gaetz.

In addition to Republicans’ anti-spending argument—Rep. Jim Jordan called the bill a “subsidy stimulus program for the cannabis industry”—there were the usual concerns around youth use and impaired driving, and the argument that Americans have more pressing concerns than cannabis law reform. 

If the MORE Act passes out of the House again, it would face not just steep opposition in the Senate, where the Democrats’ majority is slim, but also potential for fresh competition. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has proposed a piece of legislation that is more ambitious than the MORE Act, known as the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act. The CAO Act, which is currently in discussion draft form, would also end the federal criminalization of cannabis by removing it from the Controlled Substances Act, but it also includes a regulatory framework for a national industry. The CAO Act is co-authored with Senators Ron Wyden and Cory Booker.

If the discussion around the MORE Act is any indication, hearings on the CAO Act, if and when they arrive, will likely be even more contentious.

The MORE Act has seen significant lobbying activity, including, as Cannabis Wire was first to report, from Amazon.

Along with Nadler, Reps. Earl Blumenauer, Barbara Lee, Sheila Jackson Lee, Hakeem Jeffries, and Nydia Velázquez reintroduced MORE Act in May.

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