Seed Slingin' Outlaw
House Passes Bill to Decriminalize Cannabis – The House passed a landmark bill on Friday morning that aims to decriminalize cannabis and remove it from the Controlled Substance list. The Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act also improves cannabis industry banking, imposes a five percent tax on cannabis products, establishes a trust fund to support communities hit hardest by the drug war, and alters the verbiage surrounding the word “marijuana” to the more accurate term “cannabis.”
This is the first time the full chamber has taken on the issue, having passed the proposal 228-to-164. The majority of support came from Democratic representatives (222 of them, in fact), 158 Republicans voted against the measure.
Though the Bill has been on the House floor for over a year now, representatives were reluctant to vote on the issue before this year’s presidential election. Following an overwhelmingly pot-positive election season, House representatives cast their votes.
Though the House successfully passed the Bill, it is likely to die in the Senate.
Understanding the MORE Act
The MORE Act Mission Statement is
Simply put, the Bill aims to correct a failed drug war that disproportionately affects minorities and POC. By descheduling cannabis, the Bill would expunge most federal marijuana convictions. Notably, some last-minute changes to the Bill explicitly omit high-level traffickers from expungement.“To decriminalize and deschedule cannabis, to provide for reinvestment in certain persons adversely impacted by the War on Drugs, to provide for expungement of certain cannabis offenses, and for other purposes.”
Descheduling would also create more opportunities for cannabis industry banking. As it stands, cannabis businesses have limited banking options because federally funded banks cannot support illegal activity. Even if the business is legal in some areas, as long as cannabis is federally illegal, most FDIC-insured banks will decline cannabis businesses.
The Bill also reinvest in communities, particularly those hit hardest by the Drug War, by providing job training, health education, legal aid, and youth mentoring programs. It would also establish a federal cannabis justice office to oversee program implementation. The people would fund these activities through a federal cannabis tax of five percent.
Importantly, the MORE Act functions at a federal level only. States and territories would still have the ultimate authority over cannabis in their areas. As such, even if the MORE Act passes, marijuana will not immediately become legal in America. Instead, states will have the authority to regulate cannabis in their areas and will do so (or not) according to their own protocol.
House Passes Bill to Decriminalize Cannabis. Now What?
The House of Representatives has long consisted of a Democratic majority, which is notoriously pro-pot. The Senate, on the other hand, certainly is not. The US Senate now includes 53 Republicans, 45 Democrats, and two Independents who tend to lean Dem on most issues.
Notably, Georgia is hosting an unprecedented runoff election this coming January to determine who will hold their Senate seats. Though Georgia has been a Republican state for many years, an influx of minorities and young voters might change that. According to Politico, the number of college-aged voters grew by 10 percent over the last decade, while the number of foreign voters grew by almost 85 percent.
Making the MORE Act Law
Before a bill becomes a law, it must pass through both the House of Representatives and the US Senate. Though either congressional branch can introduce a bill, both government branches must approve it.
After a Bill passes one branch of congress (in this case, the House), it moves on to the next branch for review, edits, and a vote. The second branch may make alterations to the Bill then send the altered version back to the original chamber, where they will vote on the newly revised Bill. The Bill will volley back-and-forth until both chambers reach an agreement, at which point the Bill moves to the President for a vote. Though the President can veto the Bill, congress can overturn the veto with a 3/5 vote.
Generally, the Bill only needs a simple majority to pass to the next chamber of congress. However, in some cases, particularly those that would alter the constitution, 2/3 of the Senate must vote favorably for the Bill (a “supermajority”). Extremely sensitive matters like government impeachment require an extraordinary majority (3/5 vote).
When it comes to the MORE Act, the Senate must pass the Bill with a supermajority vote. As such, even an evenly split Senate will have difficulty passing the pro-pot Bill unless way more Republicans can get on board with the move.