House Judiciary Committee to Vote on Cannabis Decriminalization Bill

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The U.S. House Judiciary Committee will hold a markup of the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment, and Expungement (MORE) Act of 2019 on Wednesday, panel chairman Jerrold “Jerry” Nadler (D-NY) announced today.

A posting on the Judiciary Committee’s website confirmed the session would begin at 10 A.M. on November 20, 2019.

News of a potential vote was first reported by Forbes contributor Tom Angell, the editor of Marijuana Moment, on Saturday night.

“Our marijuana laws disproportionately harm individuals and communities of color, leading to convictions that damage job prospects, access to housing, and the ability to vote," Nadler said via a statement. “Recognizing this, many states have legalized marijuana. It’s now time for us to remove the criminal prohibitions against marijuana at the federal level." 

Introduced by Nadler in late July, the MORE Act currently has 55 cosponsors. A companion bill introduced in the Senate by Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), has 5 cosponsors.

Only one Republican – Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz -- has backed either bill.

As written, the MORE Act (H.R. 3884) would decriminalize marijuana and create a 5% sales tax on all cannabis products sold in the U.S. Proceeds from the tax would be used to create a grant program for individuals “adversely impacted by the War on Drugs.”

“Racially motivated enforcement of marijuana laws has disproportionally impacted communities of color,” Nadler said in July. “It’s past time to right this wrong nationwide and work to view marijuana use as an issue of personal choice and public health, not criminal behavior.”

In addition to removing cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act, the bill would also require federal courts to expunge cannabis-related offenses within one year of its passage.

Beyond expungement and tax collection, the bill would authorize the Small Business Administration to fund cannabis-related businesses and require the Bureau of Labor Statistics to collect demographic data on the cannabis industry.

“Thanks to the leadership of the House Judiciary chairman, never in history have we been closer to ending the failed policy of marijuana criminalization and providing pathways to opportunity for our brothers and sisters who have suffered under its oppressive reign,” NORML political director Justin Strekal said via a statement.

Calling the MORE Act the “most comprehensive marijuana policy reform bill ever introduced in Congress,” Strekal added that opponents of the bill were “defenders of a failed status-quo that ruins the lives of otherwise law-abiding adults on a daily basis.”

In a tweet, NORML said more than 20,000 supporters of the MORE Act had sent letters to lawmakers via the group’s website.

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In an email to THCnet, National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA) spokesman Morgan Fox said lawmakers are "finally listening to the two-thirds of Americans that want to make cannabis legal."

"This vote is a sign of steadily increasing momentum for cannabis policy reform in Congress," he wrote. "If passed in this committee vote, it will be a big step toward reversing the disastrous war on cannabis. It will also shine an even bigger spotlight on the issues of repairing the harms caused by prohibition and promoting fairness in the burgeoning legal cannabis industry."

Fox said that while the NCIA supports the MORE Act, it would like to see additional language that "establishes a regulatory framework post-descheduling" included in the bill.

Earlier this year, the NCIA released a 48-page white paper on how to adapt a regulatory framework for the cannabis industry.

The likelihood of federal cannabis legalization is uncertain, Fox noted, but he said education and collaboration opportunities with policymakers abound.

"Time is running short for the current legislative year, but opinions in Congress are shifting quickly," he said. "I'm certain we will continue to build momentum for descheudling in the near future, and optimistic that we can get a floor vote in the House -- and maybe even the Senate -- next year or the year after."

Legal U.S. cannabis sales reached $9.8 Billion in 2018, according to BDS Analytics, which tracks sales in the cannabis industry. By 2024, the Colorado-based research firm estimates that U.S. consumer spending on cannabis products will reach $30 billion.

Eleven states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for recreational use. Meanwhile, 33 states have legalized medical cannabis sales and 47 states have reformed cannabis laws.

According to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the enforcement of cannabis prohibition laws costs U.S. taxpayers about $3.6 billion annually.

A majority of Americans are now in favor of federal cannabis legalization, according to multiple surveys. A recent report from the Pew Research Center found that 67% of Americans believe the use of marijuana should be legal.

That figure is consistent with similar findings from Gallup and BDS Analytics. In October, Gallup announced that 66% of U.S. adults were in favor of legalizing cannabis. For its part, BDS Analytics said 80% of U.S. adults believe there should be some form of legalization.

“A supermajority of Americans, including majorities of Democrats, Republicans, and independents, support regulating the use of marijuana by responsible adults,” Strekal said via the statement.

Following the news, the Cannabis Trade Federation, a national coalition of cannabis-related businesses, sent an email urging recipients to contact elected officials and ask them to support the MORE Act.


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