Key US House lawmaker reintroduces federal marijuana legalization bill

marijuana reform

U.S. House Judiciary Chair Jerry Nadler on Friday reintroduced a social justice-focused marijuana legalization bill known as the MORE Act amid hopes that a newly elected Democratic president and Congress will result in the legislation’s passage.

During the previous Congress, the House passed a similar version of the bill. But the measure went nowhere in the Republican-controlled Senate.

The MORE Act – formally known as the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment & Expungement Act – would legalize MJ federally by removing the plant from the federal Controlled Substances Act.

“Since I introduced the MORE Act last Congress, numerous states across the nation, including my home state of New York, have moved to legalize marijuana. Our federal laws must keep up with this pace,” Nadler, a New York Democrat, said in a statement.

If approved by the House and Senate and signed into law by President Biden – which is far from a sure bet – the bill would generate huge new opportunities for plant-touching and ancillary businesses across the country.

Federal legalization also would be a major market disruptor – challenging the current patchwork of state-legal marijuana markets and likely ushering in interstate trade and commoditization that would favor low-cost growers and production areas.

Eighteen states and Washington DC have legalized adult use, although not all of those markets have yet launched.

The previous House passed the MORE Act by a 228-164 vote in early December. So the new House, seated in January, must restart the process from scratch.

“It is clear, by the overwhelming extent to which they passed the MORE Act last session, that the House understands this for the urgent racial and social justice issue it is,” Maritza Perez, director of the Office of National Affairs at the Drug Policy Alliance, said in a statement.

“Our communities that have borne the brunt of marijuana prohibition have waited long enough for justice.

“We urge House leadership to move swiftly to bring the bill back to the floor this session, so that we can continue the momentum and move a marijuana justice bill in the Senate as well.”

In the upper chamber, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York is expected to introduce a comprehensive marijuana bill that builds on the MORE Act.

But while House passage of the MORE Act is likely again, the Senate remains a higher hurdle:

  • Most bills in the Senate require 60 of 100 votes to pass.
  • The Senate has a more conservative stance toward marijuana.
  • Democrats and independents account for only 50 of the 100 members.

According to the most recent Gallup public opinion poll, a record 68% of Americans support marijuana legalization, so there is increasing pressure on federal lawmakers to reform marijuana policy.

Many social equity advocates were upset that an amendment added to the MORE Act just before the House vote empowered the federal government to prevent those charged with cannabis-related felonies from working in the marijuana industry.

That provision has been removed from the revised MORE Act, according to the New York-based Drug Policy Alliance.

The group said roughly 155 organizations support the bill, including state and local marijuana regulators and some law enforcement agencies.

In addition to descheduling marijuana, the MORE Act calls for reinvestment in communities affected by the war on drugs, and provisions to ensure an equitable and diverse marketplace.

The previous version called for a national excise tax of 5% on sales of marijuana products, but it was unclear if the new version has that provision.

A webinar hosted this week by the Washington DC-based Brookings Institution highlighted the challenges of creating opportunities for disadvantaged entrepreneurs in a marijuana industry that is predominantly white and male-owned.

Beyond reinvesting in communities, the panel discussed the need for access to capital, entrepreneurship training, community building and education about systemic inequities and social stigma associated with marijuana.

“The industry needs to be equitable at its core,” Natasha Mejia, policy analyst at the Oakland, California-based National Institute for Criminal Justice Reform, said during the webinar.

A number of multistate operators are said to be preparing for eventual legalization.

Massachusetts-based Curaleaf, for example, recently signed an agreement to acquire the huge cultivation properties of Los Sueños Farms in Colorado.

St. Louis-based investment firm Stifel saw Curaleaf’s acquisition in part prompted as the company positioning itself for eventual interstate trade with neighboring states through a cultivation footprint that could be rapidly expanded.

Jeff Smith can be reached at jeff.smith@mjbizdaily.com.