On Friday, December 4th, 2020, the United States House of Representatives passed landmark legislation to decriminalize cannabis at the federal level. The bill, which was entitled The MORE (Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement) Act would, “remove marijuana from the list of federally controlled substances and expunge federal convictions for non-violent marijuana offenses,” according to CBS.
What is the MORE Act and Who Voted For It?
The MORE Act passed in the U.S. House of Representatives with a vote total of 228 to 164. Six Democrats voted against the bill and five Republicans, including the bill’s co-sponsor Matt Gaetz of Florida voted in favor of the bill. The act would, according to House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler (D), “reverse the failed policy of criminalizing marijuana on the federal level and would take steps to address the heavy toll this policy has taken across the country, particularly on communities of color.”
The bill would decriminalize cannabis federally (though it would not make cannabis legal) by removing it from the controlled substances list, where it is currently considered a Schedule 1 substance. According to the DEA, Schedule 1 substances are defined as, “drugs with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.”
The MORE Act Does More Than Just Decriminalize Cannabis
The MORE Act would also expunge all federal convictions for non-violent drug offenses. While the federal decriminalization of cannabis would be in and of itself an incredibly progressive shift in the landscape of American drug policy, expunging thousands of non-violent federal marijuana convictions would positively impact even more lives.
Though the War on Drugs may feel like ancient history for some, especially those living in states where cannabis has been legalized, the disheartening truth is that thousands of lives and livelihoods continue to be stolen every year by arrests for cannabis possession. According to Pew Research, there were “663,000 arrests for marijuana-related offenses” in the United States in 2018, of which 92% were for nothing more than possession of cannabis. Cannabis-related arrests accounted for 40% of all U.S. drug related arrests while heroin and cocaine arrests combined accounted for only 25% of drug arrests.
Expunging federal cannabis convictions could positively impact the lives of anywhere from thousands to potentially over a million American citizens. It would change the lives of those Americans who were fined or put in prison for nothing more than being in possession of a plant that is now legal for either medicinal or recreational use in 34 U.S. states.
As Democratic Representative Hakeem Jeffries put it, “The United States incarcerates more people than any other country in the world. We have ruined lives, families and communities. It’s a stain on our democracy.” Jeffries added, “Marijuana use is either socially acceptable behavior or it’s criminal conduct, but it can’t be socially acceptable behavior in some neighborhoods and criminal conduct in other neighborhoods when the dividing line is race.”
The Vote to Decriminalize Cannabis is Groundbreaking
The bipartisan passage of the MORE Act in the House of Representatives is a massive symbolic victory for the cannabis legalization movement. Disappointingly though, the bill will likely remain as nothing more than a symbolic victory. Though the House passed cannabis decriminalization legislation rather easily, the bill will in all likelihood die in the Senate.
The MORE Act will still stall in the Senate even if the senior body of Congress has a Democratic majority following Georgia’s January runoff elections. If the bill does make it to the Senate, some of the more conservative members of the Democratic party like Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia would likely vote against it and doom it from passing.
Whatever the final fate of the MORE Act may be, its passage through the House of Representatives with some bipartisan support represents a clear shift in federal drug politics. No longer is it taboo for mainstream politicians to talk about, or vote in favor of cannabis decriminalization. The passage of the MORE Act in the House signals to Americans that progression is possible for federal cannabis policy.