The U.S. House of Representatives voted on Friday to end the federal criminalization of marijuana with the passage of the MORE Act, a bill that would remove cannabis from the nation’s list of controlled substances. Marking the first time either body of Congress has considered a bill to legalize recreational marijuana, the measure passed by a margin of 228 to 164 in a mostly party-line vote supported by the House Democratic majority.

If passed by the Senate, which seems unlikely, and signed into law by the president, the MORE Act would decriminalize marijuana at the federal level and allow the states to set their own cannabis regulation policies. The bill would also expunge convictions for many federal marijuana-related offenses and levy a commercial cannabis tax which would be invested in communities that have been harmed by the failed War on Drugs. 

Additionally, the measure would allow physicians with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to write recommendations for medical cannabis in states that have legalized medical marijuana and would make cannabis businesses eligible for grants from the Small Business Administration.

“This historic vote sets the tone for marijuana reform going into the Biden Administration and the next Congress, Sam  D’Arcangelo, director of the Cannabis Voter Project, wrote in an email. “It also shows that politicians at the federal level are finally catching up with their constituents on this issue. No matter how you slice it, it’s an important milestone for marijuana reform.” 

Prior to Friday’s vote, supporters of the measure fended off attacks led by Republicans criticizing the importance of the bill in the midst of a pandemic and an effort to amend the measure to include a provision guaranteeing the right of employers to test workers for cannabis use. That effort failed by a vote of 218 to 174, with one representative voting present.

Cannabis Community Reacts

Reaction to the passage of the MORE Act by the House of Representatives from legalization activists and the cannabis industry was swift and celebratory. Justin Strekal, the political director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), said in a press release that Friday is a historic day for marijuana policy in the United States.

“This vote marks the first time in 50 years that a chamber of Congress has ever revisited the classification of cannabis as a federally prohibited substance and sought to close the rapidly widening chasm between state and federal marijuana policies,” Strekal said. “By establishing this new trajectory for federal policy, we expect that more states will revisit and amend the archaic criminalization of cannabis, establish regulated consumer marketplaces, and direct law enforcement to cease the practice of arresting over half a million Americans annually for marijuana-related violations—arrests which disproportionately fall upon those on people of color and those on the lower end of the economic spectrum.”

Senate Passage Unlikely

Despite the success of the MORE Act in the House of Representatives, the bill has little chance of final passage unless the Democrats are able to take control of the Senate with the victory of both of the party’s candidates in next month’s Georgia run-off election. Narmin Jarrous, an executive vice president with Michigan medical and adult-use cannabis retailer Exclusive Brands, wrote in an email to High Times that despite the slim chance of success of the MORE Act in the Senate, the bill is a victory for advocates and patients who have worked to establish cannabis as a mainstream issue and essential business.

“It was crucial that the MORE act be prioritized, and delays in the voting process at times made the legislation seem like an afterthought when the impact it could have on people’s lives is immeasurable. We need the decriminalization of cannabis and decarceration of those with non-violent marijuana offenses in the immediate,” said Jarrous. “Every day that goes by that the state and federal governments are gaining cannabis tax dollars while people die behind bars is a travesty.”

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