On Wednesday, the House Committee on Rules met virtually to discuss the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act. The committee voted to advance the legislation to the full House floor, with a vote expected on Friday.
The Act, H.R. 3884, would remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act, where it is currently under the most restrictive schedule, and allow for the expungement of convictions related to past federal cannabis offenses. Importantly, the Act would not nationally legalize cannabis sales, and individual states could still decide to maintain cannabis prohibition.
One topic that came up several times during the Wednesday hearing was that committee members felt that the bill, while bipartisan in its sponsorship, should have had more support from both parties. It remains unclear if the Senate, which is controlled by Republicans, will also hear the MORE Act. (The SAFE Banking Act, which would expand access for the cannabis industry to financial institutions, stalled in the Senate after it was passed in the House last year.)
“Hopefully we can get the Senate to get off their duff,” Colorado Representative Ed Perlmutter said Wednesday. Perlmutter is also a co-sponsor of the legislation. “They are scared of their shadows on this thing, or at least their leadership is. Because there is bipartisan support for advancing our marijuana laws in the Senate if their leadership would ever take anything up, which is pretty frustrating because America is so far ahead of this Congress on this subject.”
The discussion often returned to how people of color have been disproportionately affected by the enforcement of cannabis laws. Massachusetts Representative James McGovern, chair of the House Rules Committee, said that when he’s asked about systemic racism, he points to America’s drug laws.
“It seems to me that the focus of this bill is to try to create fairer and more just laws, and to give people back their lives,” McGovern said, adding that while there’s more work on cannabis policy to be done, he hopes that the legislation moves forward.
Texas Representative Shirley Jackson Lee talked about equity provisions, including a tax on cannabis products that would be used to “reinvest in communities ravaged by the war on drugs.”
New York Representative Jerrold Nadler brought forth amendments that would allow the Department of Transportation and Coast Guard to continue testing safety sensitive employees, and clarified that only low-level cannabis possession offenses would be eligible for expungement, not “kingpins,” or organizers of large-scale illegal cannabis activity. Finally, the Comptroller General would study cannabis use for overall health, mental health, and for veterans.
Georgia Representative Rob Woodall said that when state and federal laws “collide,” and laws disagree, “we fail to enforce them evenly across,” adding that “we are all losers in that scenario. We have an obligation to enforce the laws that are on the books today. If we refuse to enforce those laws, we should repeal those laws.” Woodall added that the MORE Act is far from a “settled” issue, with groups like AAA writing in to urge against lawmakers taking “such a dramatic step.”
Jackson Lee emphasized that the MORE Act would not legalize cannabis sales in every state.
“This does not mean that marijuana would now be legal in the entire United States, a very important point. It would simply remove the federal government from the business of prosecuting marijuana cases and would leave the question of legality to the individual states,” Jackson Lee said.
The bill was expected to receive a House vote in September, but that was delayed. The House Judiciary Committee passed the MORE Act last November, 24 in favor, 10 opposed. Since then, five additional states passed cannabis legalization initiatives for medical use, adult use, or both.
MORE Act sponsor Oregon Representative Earl Blumenauer said that the MORE Act is “carefully balanced” when it comes to stakeholders most interested in the outcome of the cannabis legislation discussions, from regulators and social justice advocates to members of the cannabis industry.
“We have an opportunity for states to continue to experiment and refine their efforts,” Blumenauer said. “This is an opportunity for the federal government to get in step, to be a constructive partner, to be able to move forward with reform, to protect our children by taxing, regulating, and being able to be in partnership with the states.”