House Passes Bill to Decriminalize Marijuana

April 1, 2022 by Reece Nations
House Passes Bill to Decriminalize Marijuana
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., speaks to members of the media during a news conference in Washington, on Tuesday, Aug. 24, 2021. A bill decriminalizing marijuana has passed the U.S. House. Democratic lawmakers said the nation's federal prohibition on marijuana has had particularly devastating consequences for minority communities. (AP Photo/Amanda Andrade-Rhoades, File)

WASHINGTON — The House of Representatives voted to pass the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act and send it to the Senate on Friday.

The legislation, sponsored by Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., removes marijuana from the schedules of controlled substances under the Controlled Substances Act and establishes a process to expunge criminal convictions and conduct sentencing review hearings related to federal cannabis offenses. The bill passed by a margin of 220 in favor to 204 opposed.

The MORE Act also imposes an excise tax on marijuana product sales for the purpose of establishing a trust fund for various programs for individuals and businesses in communities impacted by the war on drugs. Further, should the bill be enacted, it would direct the Government Accountability Office to study the societal impact of nationwide cannabis legalization.

“This is an important piece of legislation,” House Majority Leader Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said in remarks from the House floor. “How do I know that? Because the people have told us that. Every time they’ve had the opportunity to vote in America, they have voted to do this.”


Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, bemoaned the bill’s consideration in the House as an attempt to “kickstart” the marijuana industry and legalize drugs as inflation soars and gas prices rise across the country. Jordan would go on to say in remarks from the House floor that issues like illegal crossings over the southern border and rising crime rates should take precedence over marijuana policy reform.

Advocates, however, praised the Democratic majority in the House for passing the bill and focusing on the social impacts of the federal marijuana prohibition, including its disparities in enforcement among minorities and communities of color.

In a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center last year, 91% of U.S. adult respondents indicated support for ending the prohibition on marijuana compared to 8% who indicated that it should remain illegal.

“Until several years ago, most of the emphasis was on incremental changes or providing simple safe harbor for states to determine their own policies, rather than removing cannabis from the schedule of controlled substances in the [Controlled Substances Act],” Morgan Fox, political director of the nonprofit National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, told The Well News.

“Descheduling is now the focus, as we have seen from the initial passage of the MORE Act in 2020 and the continued introduction of additional legislation in the House that includes descheduling.”


Other provisions of the bill would require the Bureau of Labor Statistics to regularly publish demographic data on cannabis business owners and employees and open Small Business Administration loans and services to entities that are cannabis-related legitimate businesses or service providers, according to the text of the bill.

Further, it prohibits the denial of federal public benefits to a person on the basis of certain cannabis-related conduct or convictions and prohibits the denial of benefits and protections under immigration laws for marijuana convictions.

Republicans had strongly opposed granting protections for immigrants in the bill during its consideration, although three Republicans ultimately joined their Democratic colleagues in voting for the bill’s passage.

“We applaud the MORE Act’s approach to legalization that promises to address many of the harms caused by prohibition through an equity- and justice-centered framework,” Toi Hutchinson, president and CEO of the Marijuana Policy Project and former member of the Illinois state Senate, said in a written statement shared with The Well News.

“Americans have made their support for cannabis legalization abundantly clear, and states across the country have taken the lead on cannabis legalization. Now it is time for Congress to take action and finally put an end to the failed policy of prohibition.”

In addition to the MORE Act, other bills focusing on drug policy reform have already successfully cleared the House and await Senate committee hearings. The SAFE Banking Act would prohibit federal banking regulators from penalizing a depository institution for providing banking services to cannabis-related businesses, while the EQUAL Act would eliminate the federal sentencing disparity between drug offenses involving crack cocaine and powder cocaine.

Bradly Bartos, assistant professor at Arizona University’s School of Government and Public Policy, told The Well News that social initiatives like the war on drugs have been popularized and portrayed as protecting against foreign threats while their enforcement has been directed primarily towards non-white and less-affluent Americans. Bartos said this narrative has long been spun to Americans as a method to view social problems as issues arising from communities of color.

Additionally, Bartos said legalization initiatives like the MORE Act do not necessarily contradict the stated goals of the Nixon-era “war on drugs”, which were to limit the public harm posed by recreational substances. Including a criminal record expungement process in passing cannabis reform policy is “absolutely essential” to reduce the overall harm caused by the war on drugs, he said.


“For 30 years, the trend in public opinion towards marijuana has been a slow and steady increase in acceptance,” Bartos told The Well News. “As this trend continues, the prospect of success becomes greater and greater. However, even if a large majority of Americans support cannabis reforms, the structure of the U.S. senate provides a clear path for conservative obstruction.”

Reece can be reached at [email protected]

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