photo by Carol M. Highsmith
The United States is now a step closer to legalizing marijuana on a federal level. On Friday, April 1, The U.S. House of Representatives approved a bill to make marijuana legal. But that's just the first hurdle in federal legalization.
To become law, the bill would have to be approved by the Senate, where it faces fierce opposition. In 2020, Congress passed an almost identical version of the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, but it was shot down in the Senate, which refused to bring it to the floor for a vote.
Senate approval of the new MORE act could be further complicated by competing bills.Later this month, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Ron Wyden (D-OR) plan to introduce their long-awaited federal decriminalization bill, the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act, reports Forbes
In addition, Nancy Mace (R-SC), the freshman Representative from a swing district of South Carolina, has introduced the States Reform Act, which would end the government's 85-year prohibition on cannabis. The bill is expected to be up for a hearing later this month and is the first Republican legislation to legalize cannabis on a federal level. Mace voted thumbs down on the MORE Act.
The MORE bill was written by House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), and passed by the full chamber 220 to 204, with minor revisions. The vote landed almost entirely on party lines, with all but two Democrats voting to pass it. Only three Republicans supported the legislation.
The MORE Act would decriminalize marijuana federally. The current federal ban prohibits cannabis from being sent through the mail, consumed on federally-owned land (such as government buildings and state parks), and brought on airplanes, among other regulations. In the U.S., 19 states have approved recreational cannabis for adults and 36 states have approved medical marijuana. However, under the MORE Act, legalization would be left up to individual states.
In 2021, the legal cannabis industry brought in $25 billion in sales, reports Forbes. That's a 43 percent increase over the year before. If current sales trends continue, marijuana sales will reach at least $65 billion in 2030.
Before the floor debate began, Nadler introduced the MORE Act and called it, "Long overdue legislation that would reverse decades of failed federal policies based on the criminalization of marijuana."
He added that the act would help reverse past rulings that have heavily affected minorities. “[The MORE Act] would take steps to address the heavy toll these policies have taken across the country, particularly among communities of color. For far too long, we have treated marijuana as a criminal justice problem, instead of as a matter of personal choice and public health,” he said.
In one of the more rational arguments posed by those someone who voted against the MORE Act, Cliff Bentz (R-OR) expressed concern about how the law could cause more damage than good. While he admitted, "It has been “obvious for years that at some point marijuana was going to be formally legalized,” he is worried about how legalization will negatively affect children and lead to more traffic accidents. "What’s deeply and truly disturbing, however, about this bill is its failure to address the clear consequences of legalization," he said.