On Friday the U.S. House passed a historic bill that would end the federal prohibition of marijuana and expunge many cannabis-related convictions. It’s the first time the full House has considered —let alone passed — such a bill.
The Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act (MORE Act), made it through the House by a 228 to 164 vote. Nearly every Democrat supported the measure, while just five Republicans voted for it. Six Democrats voted against the bill.
The bill, introduced by Rep. Jerry Nadler (D., N.Y.), would eliminate conflict between state and federal law and allow states to set their own marijuana policies.
"I have long believed that the criminalization of marijuana has been a mistake, and the racially disparate enforcement of marijuana laws has only compounded this mistake, with serious consequences, particularly for communities of color,” said Nadler ahead of the vote.
The MORE Act would impose a 5% sales tax on marijuana and marijuana products. The revenue would go toward a new trust fund for grant programs designed to help people “adversely impacted by the War on Drugs” access job training, re-entry services, legal aid, treatment and more. The bill would also provide protections prohibiting denial of federal benefits based on use, possession or conviction for a marijuana offense.
If signed into law, marijuana businesses would have access to Small Business Administration funding and other business opportunities. The Bureau of Labor Statistics would have to gather demographic data on cannabis business owners and employees to ensure people of color and economically disadvantaged people are taking part in the industry.
“My Republican colleagues today will make a number of arguments against this bill. But those arguments are overwhelmingly losing with the American people. In every state where cannabis reform was on the ballot in this country, it passed,” said Rep. Matt Gaetz (R., Fla.), the bill’s only Republican cosponsor. “We talk all the time, on the right, about the need to empower people and to empower states. Right now, the federal policy on cannabis restrains our people and limits our states.”
Republicans have used the bill as a line of attack this week, repeatedly saying Democrats are prioritizing cannabis over COVID-19 relief negotiations.
“I was all over the state of Ohio in the recent campaign. I was all over the country,” said Rep. Jim Jordan (R., Ohio) on the House floor ahead of the vote. “Not once — not once did a person come up to me, American citizen come up to me, and say ‘you know what the first thing I hope the Congress does after this election, the. first major piece of legislation I hope the Congress takes up after this election is to legalize marijuana.”
When asked about that argument earlier this year, Rep. Tom McClintock (R., Calif.) — one of just two Republicans to support the bill in committee — told Yahoo Finance “you support a bill when it comes up for a vote.”
“I do think it's rather disturbing that the only small business that the Democrats seem to be concerned about is cannabis vendors, when they were strangling the life out of every small business in our state,” he added.
Democrats argue they’ve already passed two versions of the Heroes Act and it is Republicans who are holding up stimulus talks.
“We had a Speaker of the House that never stopped negotiating and trying to find relief for the dying Americans and those suffering from COVID-19,” said Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D., Texas). “It’s important to note that work is going on, led by our Speaker, and we hope that we’ll have the right partner to be able to save the lives of the American people who are now suffering from COVID-19. The MORE Act also saves lives.”
Vice President-elect Kamala Harris introduced the Senate version of the bill last year. Legalization advocates say passage in the Senate will be difficult.
“It’s not very likely to be brought up during the lame duck and would still face a pretty big uphill battle in the Senate...regardless of what the actual outcome of the Georgia Senate races are,” said Morgan Fox with the National Cannabis Industry Association.
Still, supporters say this is a huge victory that sends a strong message.
Jessica Smith is a reporter for Yahoo Finance based in Washington, D.C. Follow her on Twitter at @JessicaASmith8.