WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act of 2019 (MORE Act) was scheduled for a floor vote in the House the week of September 21, but a Democratic House member and top aides on Thursday told news site Politico that the vote will not take place until after the November election. If approved, the bill would effectively decriminalize cannabis and remove “marijuanha” from the Controlled Substances Act’s (CSA) Schedule I.
Democratic vice-presidential candidate and Senator Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), who sponsored the MORE Act and introduced it to the House, commented at a recent ABC town hall:
“Under a Biden-Harris administration, we will decriminalize the use of marijuana and automatically expunge all marijuana-use convictions and end incarceration for drug use alone. This is no time for half-steppin’. This is no time for incrementalism. We need to deal with the system and there needs to be significant change in the design of the system.”
Neither presidential candidate Joe Biden nor the Democratic Party platform has endorsed Harris’ position on cannabis. Biden, a senior statesman, has varied in his opinions on issues over decades, but has consistently been against total legalization of cannabis. Notably, in May on podcast “The Breakfast Club,” he said, “No one should go to jail for drug crimes. Period. Particularly marijuana.”
Politico pointed out due to the COVID-19 pandemic—and lack of a second pandemic relief package to support a slowing economy—Democrats fear that in the face of multiple major disasters, the GOP could weaponize cannabis legislation as frivolous. Such concerns appear to have succeeded in postponing the vote.
Still, the decision to postpone the vote was not unanimous. “If you’re trying to punt it as a result of a political calculation, I disagree with that calculation,” said Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), a co-sponsor of the bill. “This is an enormously popular policy—not just for our base, but it’s also very popular amongst certain parts of registered Republican voters and independent voters. I think this is a win-win-win policy, and I think that we should be doing this before the election.”
After the postponement, legislation co-sponsor Representatives Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) and Barbara Lee (D-Cailf.) said the MORE Act will go for a vote before the end of the year.
President Donald Trump’s unpredictability still has not allowed him to comment on cannabis during his term as president. In 2016, when he was newly elected, legal cannabis industry members were hopeful the President might recognize the economic opportunity behind cannabis legalization. Now seeking re-election, Trump remains mum on marijuana.
“We’re going to see what’s going on. It’s a very big subject, and right now we are allowing states to make that decision,” the President said in 2018. “A lot of states are making that decision, but we’re allowing states to make that decision.”
Given the back-to-back crises that have preoccupied most of 2020, on top of social unrest and a fast-approaching, contentious presidential election, it should be no surprise that cannabis law reform has dropped down the list of priorities.
When the MORE Act eventually goes to the House, it will be the first time since 1970 (when cannabis first was designated as a narcotic) that Congress has voted on whether to de-schedule a controlled substance.
The CSA classifies cannabis as an illegal substance, like heroin or LSD, which allows federal prohibition, despite recreational legalization in eleven states, and medical approval in twenty-two states.