Cannabis Legislation Advances in Congress
On September 30, 2021, federal cannabis legalization took a giant step forward when the U.S. House Judiciary Committee advanced a bipartisan measure, HR 3617, the Marijuana, Opportunity, Reinvestment, and Expungement (MORE) Act of 2021. In the Senate, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has also designated cannabis legalization as a legislative priority.
The bill was approved in Committee by a vote of 26-15, with 24 Democrats joined by two Republicans voting yes and 15 Republicans voting no. A 2021 Quinnipiac poll posed the question: “Do you think that the use of marijuana should be made legal in the United States, or not?” The responses showed broad support across all party lines.
Overall: 69% Yes – 25% No
Democrat: 78% Yes – 17% No
Republicans: 62% Yes – 32% No
Independents: 67% Yes – 28% No
The MORE Act removes marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act — thereby ending the existing state/federal conflict in cannabis policies and providing state governments with greater authority to regulate marijuana-related activities, including retail sales. If enacted by Congress, medical cannabis users would be eligible for the same “reasonable accommodations” under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) as workers using prescription drugs. Currently, the ADA does not protect “illegal drug” users although some state versions of the ADA have been applied in tandem with cannabis laws in order to protect workers at the state level.
The MORE Act also changes federal marijuana policy in other ways, including:
Facilitating the expungement of low-level federal marijuana convictions, and incentivizing state and local governments to take similar actions;
Allowing veterans, for the first time, to obtain medical cannabis recommendations from their VA doctors;
Removing the threat of deportation for immigrants accused of minor marijuana infractions or who are gainfully employed in the state-legal cannabis industry; and,
Providing critical reinvestment grant opportunities for communities that have suffered disproportionate rates of marijuana-related enforcement actions.
According to the FBI, over 545,000 Americans were arrested for marijuana-related crimes in 2019, with 90% of those arrested charged with mere possession. The ACLU reports that Black Americans are 3.6 times more likely to be arrested for cannabis-related crimes than white Americans.