The House of Representatives is set to vote on the legalization of marijuana sometime in December, according to House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer. It’s a sign the Democrats, who have control over the lower chamber but are still waiting on final votes, are trying to get a jump start on a promise by President-elect Joe Biden to eliminate the criminal penalties for pot offenders.
In a letter published last week, Hoyer explained how the lame-duck session from November through December was going to unfold. He wrote that one of the highest priorities was to put the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act in a position to advance in the next session.
“The House will vote on the MORE Act to decriminalize cannabis and expunge convictions for non-violent cannabis offenses that have prevented many Americans from getting jobs, applying for credit and loans, and accessing opportunities that make it possible to get ahead in our economy,” the letter states.
What is interesting about the MORE Act is that it is sponsored by Vice President-elect Kamala Harris in the Senate. The proposal aims to strike cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act and make it to where people who get caught in possession of weed are never again incarcerated. As it stands, the United States still locks up more than 600,000 pot offenders each year.
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The MORE Act is a move that makes sense at the federal level now that more than half the states are allowing marijuana sales in some form or fashion. In the past election, five more jurisdictions joined the legal cannabis trade. The MORE Act aims to legalize the leaf, similar to how it has done with alcohol. It would establish a taxed and regulated system and a portion of that money (5%) would be spent reinvigorating communities brought down by the War on Drugs.
The House was initially scheduled to vote on the MORE Act in early September, but it was pushed back over concerns that moving forward might offend the voters and have a negative impact on the election. It’s not that the population doesn’t agree with marijuana legalization. It does. The latest Gallup poll shows 68% of the population now believes the herb should be legal nationwide. But the country is still struggling with the coronavirus, so House lawmakers felt it was disrespectful to approve legal weed while COVID relief talks remain stagnant. President-elect Biden has made virus control a priority once he takes office in January.
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Although the MORE Act will likely be approved in the House, it remains to be seen what will happen with it once it reaches the Senate. For now, it looks as though the Republicans will maintain control of the upper chamber, and that could make passing marijuana reform bills a daunting task. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has yet to come out in support of full blown legalization. In fact, his last word on the matter is that he remains staunchly opposed to such a thing.
Even if the bill had his support, however, it is still a bit ambitious for Biden. Although he has promised to make marijuana decriminalization a priority for his administration, he doesn’t believe that full-blown legalization is where the nation should go. Whether Kamala Harris can get him to think more progressively, only time will tell. Nevertheless, Democrats want to ensure the MORE Act is on deck once the new Congress gets to work at the beginning of the year.