HISTORIC: United States House Votes to End Federal Cannabis Prohibition

The fight to end cannabis prohibition has been a state by state battle, with advocates even turning towards local decriminalization or even “lowest law enforcement priority” measures over the past several decades. Starting with Oregon decriminalizing personal amounts back in 1973, the cannabis reform movement was jump started by California legalizing medicinal use in 1998, and then the dam really started to break when Colorado and Washington legalized adult use in 2012, and now, we have FINALLY garnered a positive vote to end prohibition at the federal level.

The Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act passed 228 to 164 today along a mostly party line vote, with five Republicans joining the right side of history and six Democrats clinging to the failed policy of prohibition. Even though the MORE Act is unlikely to pass the Mitch McConnell-controlled Senate during this lame duck 2020 session, a few Senate seats changing hands in the next couple of years, could pave the way in that chamber. And with the next Vice President a co-sponsor, it seems like passage in the near future is within our grasp.

Cannabis community, today is a day for celebration. The People’s House has finally voted along with the will of the people. We are the supermajority and we have taken the next steps towards achieving freedom and equality across our nation. This is a joyous milestone and a great achievement for everyone that has been working to reform our unjust cannabis laws. Soon, it’s back to work.

Oregon’s Representative Earl Blumenauer deserves about as much credit as anyone for the passage of the MORE Act, and he released this statement following its passage:

House Passes Historic Cannabis Reform Legislation

The MORE Act would end the failed federal cannabis prohibition and ensure restorative justice

WASHINGTON, D.C. —Today, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, legislation supported by U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) to end the federal prohibition of cannabis and ensure restorative justice for those impacted by it. 

Although cannabis will soon be legal in 15 states for adult use and in 36 states for medical use, it remains criminalized at the federal level, destroying hundreds of thousands of lives and wasting billions of dollars on the selective enforcement of an outdated and harmful system. Today’s historic vote – the bill passed the House 228 – 164 – marked the first time a full chamber of Congress voted to end this prohibition.

“I have worked on this issue for 47 years,” Blumenauer, co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, said on the House floor on Friday, prior to the final vote. “We’re here because we have failed three generations of Black and Brown young people, whose lives can be ruined, or lost, by selective enforcement of these laws. This legislation will end that disaster. It’s time for Congress to step up and do its part. We need to catch up with the rest of the American people.”

The continued enforcement of cannabis prohibition laws results in over 600,000 arrests annually, disproportionately impacting people of color who are almost four times more likely to be arrested for cannabis possession than their white counterparts, despite equal rates of use across populations. Too often, cases of low-level cannabis possession escalate to police violence. For many, the selective enforcement of cannabis prohibition becomes a matter of life and death.  
 

People of color have also been historically targeted by discriminatory prosecution and sentencing practices. Black men receive drug sentences that are 13.1 percent longer than sentences imposed for white men. Latinos are nearly 6.5 times more likely to receive a federal sentence for cannabis possession than non-Hispanic whites. Once released, people of color often continue to be robbed of their dignity, as having a felony conviction can impact the ability to get an education, secure gainful employment, or vote.

The MORE Act centers racial justice by decriminalizing marijuana at the federal level and enacting other policies, including:  

  • Expungement and resentencing: Requires federal courts to expunge marijuana arrests and convictions and resentence those still in custody or under court supervision for a marijuana offense, pursuant to a judicial review process. 
  • Immigration reform: In 2013, simple cannabis possession was the fourth most common cause of deportation for any offense and the most common cause of deportation for drug law violations. The MORE Act ensures that marijuana is no longer considered a controlled substance for purposes of the immigration laws—and does so retroactively. 
  • Non-discrimination protections: Provides non-discrimination protections for marijuana use or possession and for prior convictions for a marijuana offense. 
  • Juvenile protection: Ensures that all benefits in the law are available to juveniles arrested and convicted. 

The MORE Act also centers economic justice by ensuring that people of color are not shut out of the emerging regulated cannabis marketplace and reinvesting in communities most impacted by prohibition.

Legal cannabis sales totaled $9.5 billion in 2017 and are projected to reach $23 billion by 2022. However, fewer than one-fifth of cannabis business owners identify as minorities and only approximately four percent are Black. One reason for this gap is the historically disproportionate arrest and conviction rates that make it particularly difficult for people of color to enter the legal cannabis marketplace. 

In order to address inequalities in the legal cannabis marketplace and ensure equal participation in the industry, the MORE Act supports:  

  • Restorative Justice Programs: Authorizes the assessment of a five percent excise tax on sales of marijuana and marijuana products to fund programs like reentry services and substance use treatment. 
  • Equitable Business Access: Fund programs to open up opportunities for loans to small businesses owned and controlled by socially and economically disadvantaged individuals, and for states to implement equitable cannabis licensing programs. The MORE Act also requires the Bureau of Labor Statistics to collect data on the demographics of the industry to ensure equitable participation. 
  • Small Business Support: Currently, federal law severely limits access to loans and capital for cannabis businesses, disproportionately impacting minority small business owners. The MORE Act would open Small Business Administration resources for legitimate cannabis-related businesses and service providers. 

The full text of the legislation (H.R.3884) is available here

Video of Blumenauer speaking on the House floor earlier today about the MORE Act can be found here.

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I was so happy to receive this kind, thoughtful email that Representative Blumenauer sent to Oregon cannabis law reform advocates:

Dear friends, 

Having just stepped off the floor of the House after voting for, and then witnessing the passage of the MORE Act, I wanted to express how much I appreciate your long-standing support and partnership. This was a truly historic vote and one that builds further momentum for our shared goal: federal legalization of cannabis. 

Yesterday, as I presided over the debate on this bill, I couldn’t help but recall the many conversations, conference calls, roundtable meetings—and yes, Zoom calls—I’ve had with Oregon’s cannabis community. Going all the way back to 2014 when Oregonians voted to legalize adult-use, and even in decades before then, you’ve provided me with thoughtful, pragmatic, and expert guidance. 

We’ve been waiting for this moment for a long time. It’s an important step towards rationalizing the policy. And while it’s a moment to celebrate, there is still more work to do. I look forward to continuing our partnership in the months ahead as a new session of Congress gets underway and we successfully eliminate the federal laws that restrict cannabis. 

But for right now, I just wanted to say thank you for your generous support and engagement in this fight. I deeply appreciate it. 

Courage, 

Earl  

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