UPDATE: Nov. 20, 2019: The House Judiciary Committee, by a 24-10 vote, approved a bill Wednesday that would legalize cannabis on the federal level, removing it from Schedule 1 of the Controlled Substances Act.
- The Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act would impose a 5% tax on cannabis sales, and some of that money would be set aside for loans to small cannabis businesses owned and controlled by socially and economically disadvantaged individuals, Forbes reported.
The panel's approval sets the stage for a full House vote — and the bill could pass in that chamber, given its Democratic majority. However, the legislation would have a tougher time passing the Republican-controlled Senate.
The committee approval comes nearly two months after the House passed the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Act, which creates protections for financial institutions that provide services to cannabis-related businesses. That bill is awaiting a Senate vote, which Banking Committee Chairman Mike Crapo, R-ID, has said he wants to hold by the end of the year.
The MORE Act, introduced by committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-NY, would give states incentives to expunge the criminal records of people with low-level pot charges. A number of the bill's other provisions are meant to counteract the war on drugs' disproportionate effect on people of color. The bill would promote job training and legal aid for people affected by past enforcement of cannabis law. It would also block federal agencies from denying public benefits or security clearances to people who have used cannabis.
"The criminalization of marijuana has been a mistake," Nadler said during the markup of the bill. "The racial disparity in marijuana enforcement laws only compounded this mistake with serious consequences, particularly for minority communities."
The bill had 55 co-sponsors, all but one of whom were Democrats. Two of the 24 lawmakers who voted in favor of the bill Wednesday were Republicans. And one of them, Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-FL, argued that a milder bill — the Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States (STATES) Act — would have a better chance of passing in the Senate. The STATES Act would not remove pot from the Controlled Substances Act. Nor does it contain MORE's social justice provisions.
"We may need something a little less than MORE," Gaetz said, according to Marijuana Moment.
The STATES Act does, however, leave pot policy up to states.
Cannabis has at least some level of legality in 44 states — among them, California, the home state of the other Republican to vote in favor of Wednesday's bill. "I don’t sing the praises of marijuana, I simply recognize the limitation of our laws and also the limits on my ability to try and run everybody’s lives for them," said Rep. Tom McClintock (R-CA).
A Senate companion bill championed by presidential candidate Kamala Harris, D-CA, has not yet been scheduled for action.