As support for cannabis legalisation continues to grow throughout the US, politicians are increasingly calling for an end to prohibition. A few weeks ago, the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act was reintroduced in Congress, having previously passed the House of Representatives but not the Senate at the end of last year. Since then, however, the Democrats have wrested control of both the Senate and the White House from the Republicans, leading to renewed hopes that the MORE Act could finally be passed before 2021 is out.
What Is The MORE Act?
The MORE Act is a bill that aims to legalise cannabis at the federal level and includes clauses that would automatically expunge all prior marijuana-related criminal convictions. Aside from allowing the cultivation, possession and sale of cannabis, the bill also prioritises social and racial justice and stipulates that a percentage of all taxes from cannabis sales must be reinvested in those in communities most affected by the War on Drugs.
On May 28, New York representative Jerrold Nadler introduced the legislation to the House for a second time, explaining that “since I introduced the MORE Act last Congress, numerous states across the nation, including my home state of New York, have moved to legalise marijuana. Our federal laws must keep up with this pace.”
Importantly, the bill has been slightly amended since last year and no longer contains a controversial clause that would prohibit those with prior cannabis convictions from owning cannabis businesses. Clearly, such a stipulation runs contrary to the goal of restoring social justice, and its removal has been widely applauded.
The MORE Act also ensures that immigrants can no longer be denied US citizenship on the grounds of cannabis-related criminal records and would end the withholding of federal benefits from those with a history of cannabis use.
Will The MORE Act Become Law?
There’s little doubt that political will is growing when it comes to federal cannabis legalisation. In December 2020, the MORE Act passed the House of Representatives with relative ease. Still, the Republican-controlled Senate was ultimately shot down, which refused to ratify the bill before the end of the Congressional session at the start of January. This was not an unexpected blow, as the legislation was always a Democrat initiative. Its failure to pass the Senate merely reflected the Republicans’ desire not to concede any ground to their political rivals.
However, in addition to taking back the Presidency, the Democrats now also have an advantage in the Senate, which is currently split 50/50 between the two parties. As a result, Democratic vice president Kamala Harris – who happens to be a supporter of the MORE Act – has the power to cast the deciding vote on any deadlocked issue.
This obviously tilts the playing field in favour of the MORE Act, although that shouldn’t be seen as a guarantee that it will succeed. After all, president Joe Biden has a pretty poor record on drug policy. While he has changed his tune somewhat in recent years, he has never committed to supporting legalisation.
It’s also possible that some Democrats could vote against the MORE Act favouring alternative legalisation measures. For instance, Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer is currently working with other representatives on a separate bill that would end the federal prohibition of cannabis. Like the MORE Act, this alternative bill is expected to prioritise social justice by providing assistance to those victimised by the War on Drugs. However, no solid details have been announced yet.
Will The MORE Act Achieve Its Goals?
In addition to the uncertainty of whether the MORE Act will be approved, question marks have also been raised about whether it will have the intended impact. Among those offering a word of caution is leading drug policy activist Shaleen Title, who played a central role in implementing cannabis legalisation measures in Massachusetts.
Despite policymakers’ best intentions to ensure that minority communities are given a leg-up within the legal cannabis market, Title says that a familiar pattern has repeated itself in every US state that has chosen to end prohibition: rather than enabling the victims of the War on Drugs to access their fair share of the industry, the removal of restrictions on cannabis sales has simply allowed large corporations to dominate the market. As a result, minority communities have struggled to gain a foothold, with less than four percent of cannabis business owners in the US being black.
Through the crowdfunded Parabola Center, Title has co-authored a rewrite of the MORE Act, which she and her colleagues believe could help prevent this pattern from being repeated on a national scale. In a nutshell, the reconstructed bill argues that to remove all barriers to interstate cannabis sales in one fell swoop would be a death sentence for smaller players within the market, as the government has not yet developed the necessary competence to prevent larger firms from taking over.
Therefore, the re-written ACT contains amendments that would continue to prevent interstate trade in cannabis, allowing individual states to experiment with different frameworks for ensuring the inclusion of minority communities. This would allow the federal government to observe the measures being taken by each state and learn what works and what doesn’t before eventually rolling out its own framework for a nationwide legal cannabis market.
In the meantime, certain elements of the MORE Act can be immediately implemented across the country, including the legalisation of cannabis cultivation, possession and use, as well as the expungement of all prior criminal convictions relating to these activities.
By accepting these proposals, Title says that the country will save itself from choosing between the continuation of prohibition and the handing-over of the legal cannabis industry to major corporations.