Late last week, the U.S. House of Representatives voted in favor of passing the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, sending it to the Senate for the next level of approval. This marks the first time a federal government body has voted on a nationwide cannabis legislation measure.
The bill, originally sponsored by then-Senator and now-Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, was introduced in July of 2019. The bill, if brought into law, would federally decriminalize cannabis as well as implement a system to expunge the records of those convicted with cannabis-related crimes. The bill would also leave the right to pass legislation to regulate the legal sale of cannabis up to individual states.
“This long-overdue legislation would 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,” said Rep. Jerry Nadler.
Rep. Matt Gaetz was among the Republicans to vote in favor of the Democrat-authored bill.
“If we were measuring the success in the 'war on drugs,' it would be hard to conclude anything other than the fact that drugs have won,” said Rep. Gaetz.
The federal government has lied to the people of this country about marijuana for a generation.— Rep. Matt Gaetz (@RepMattGaetz) December 4, 2020
I’m voting for the MORE Act. pic.twitter.com/suH497s54Y
While advocates, government officials and news outlets have celebrated the House approval of the measure, the vote may be more emblematic than anything else. The MORE Act may have passed through the Democrat-majority House of Representatives, but it does not fare very well in the Senate.
“I would give it less than a snowball's chance of passage in the Senate,” said John Hudak, deputy director of the Center for Effective Public Management at the Brookings Institution.
“In my view, more than anything, the House wanted to show the incoming Biden administration that it is serious about cannabis reform and that it expects the administration to advance the ball on legalization or descheduling,” said Jodi Avergun, former US Drug Enforcement Administration chief of staff, to CNN Business. “Folks were disappointed that Biden's transition documents did not reiterate the cannabis loosening pledges he made during the campaign. Maybe this is a subtle statement that the House did not forget what Biden had promised during the campaign.”
The major obstacle looming over the MORE Act in the Senate is Republican and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Sen. McConnell has said that there are no plans to bring up the MORE Act for consideration in the Senate, and advocacy leaders aren’t holding out too much optimism for that to change.
McConnell “loves seeing Americans getting arrested for marijuana,” said Justin Strekal, policy director for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML).
“I firmly believe there are the votes to outright end marijuana prohibition in the Senate,” said Strekal. “The problem is that Mitch McConnell controls the floor.”
In many ways this year, the state of Georgia has been crucial to the history of U.S. politics, including an important runoff election scheduled for early 2021.
“The fastest way to get this through Congress is if someone published a poll that said that Georgia strongly favored decriminalization,” said Rep. Bill Foster, bill co-sponsor. “And then Mitch McConnell would have it on the floor of the Senate so fast it’d make your head spin.”