House Delays Vote on Cannabis Legalization
A House vote on federal cannabis legalization has been put on hold, according to Politico.
The Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, which would remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act, was originally scheduled to reach the House floor this month.
However, over the last two weeks, moderate House Democrats have pushed their more progressive counterparts to punt on a vote until after the November elections over growing concerns that Senate Republicans — who are looking to pass a “targeted” coronavirus relief measure — would use it as leverage in the fight for a more favorable deal.
Earlier this week, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell took a swing at House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, claiming that she wouldn’t “make time for more COVID relief,” but that she would “make time for marijuana.”
That type of messaging is what ultimately led House Democrats to hit the pause button, according to Politico cannabis reporter Natalie Fertig, who has closely followed developments around the MORE Act.
Democrats originally wanted to use the bill — which has broad bipartisan support and was expected to be pass — as an opportunity to showcase just how close federal cannabis legalization actually is.
Since the MORE Act — which establishes a 5% tax on all cannabis products and permits states to set their own marijuana policies — was not expected to survive a Senate vote, a win in the House was intended to prove that Democrats could push more progressive initiatives forward if they controlled both chambers.
The hope was that voters located in areas with tight Senate races would be more encouraged to show up at the polls if they knew Democrats in Washington D.C. were proactively working on issues like cannabis reform.
“I think this is a win-win-win policy, and I think that we should be doing this before the election.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), a MORE Act co-sponsor, told Politico.
Ultimately, however, the optics of passing a marijuana bill before hammering out another round of coronavirus aid proved too big a hurdle for centrist Democrats seeking reelection to clear.
In addition to creating a federal tax on cannabis, the MORE Act calls for the establishment of a Cannabis Justice Office tasked with administering grants to individuals most adversely impacted by the War on Drugs. It also requires federal courts to expunge cannabis-related offenses within one year of its passage.
Advocates argue that those components would resonate with voters across the country at a time when social justice reform is in the spotlight.
Meanwhile, there is broad national support for cannabis legalization, and several polls have shown that roughly two-thirds of American are in favor of legalizing marijuana.
Nevertheless, there are still many outspoken opponents of cannabis legalization. Most notably, Kevin Sabet, the president of prohibitionist group Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM).
Sabet celebrated Thursday's news on Twitter and took partial credit for the House’s decision to temporarily postpone a vote, writing that it “wasn’t a fluke.”
“It was the result of our great work across a wide coalition,” he said.
On Wednesday, a coalition of 30 groups opposed to the legalization of cannabis, including SAM, sent a letter to House leadership voicing their concerns about the MORE Act.
“The MORE Act would not simply decriminalize marijuana, as some proponents have claimed, but rather fully legalize and commercialize the drug,” they wrote.
That’s not entirely true, however, since individual states would still be allowed to determine their cannabis policies.
Nevertheless, it's unclear if Sabet’s letter had any real impact on House Democrats' choice to postpone the vote, however.
Still, Sabet heralded the decision to wait two more months as a “massive victory for public health, safety, and quite frankly commonsense [sic],” and said a delayed vote during an upcoming lame-duck session was “like winning an exhibition game in baseball.”
“SAM and its allies have ensured no new marijuana legalization bills have made significant progress for yet another Congress,” he said.
It’s worth noting that Politico’s Fertig reportedly spoke to Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) and Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) — co-chairs of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus — who said they have “an ironclad commitment” from House leadership that a vote on the MORE Act will occur before the end of the year.
In a blog post, cannabis advocacy and lobbying group NORML wrote that "prohibitionists and concern-mongers have carried the day."
"This is a delay of justice; it is as simple as that," the group said. "But rest assured, we will not falter in our commitment to keep fighting."