Democrats Delay Historic Marijuana Vote Until After Election - Do You Support National Decriminalization?
Do you support national decriminalization of marijuana?
by Causes | 10.7.20
What’s the story?
- After Congress returned from its August recess, House Democrats announced plans to pass a historic marijuana decriminalization bill before adjourning for Congress’s biennial pre-election recess, but in mid-September delayed the vote until after the election.
- Democratic leaders opted to delay the vote after some lawmakers within the caucus facing challenging re-election campaigns expressed concern about the optics of voting on marijuana reform legislation while Congress was still unable to come to a bipartisan agreement on coronavirus relief. The House is currently adjourned until after the election pending a deal on another COVID-19 stimulus package.
- Neither chamber of Congress has ever passed a broad federal marijuana decriminalization or legalization package, and the delay may make it more challenging for the House to take up the bill during a lame duck session in which lawmakers will need to avoid a partial government shutdown on December 11th and try to compromise on a coronavirus relief package.
- Nonetheless, Congressional Cannabis Caucus Co-Chairs Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) expressed optimism the vote will happen and said Democratic leadership gave “an ironclad commitment that the House will consider the bill this fall.”
What does the bill do?
- Democrats’ marijuana reform bill is known as the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, which would decriminalize marijuana at the federal level, require resentencing and expungement of prior marijuana convictions.
- The MORE Act would also assess a 5% sales tax on marijuana products with revenue allocated to an Opportunity Trust Fund that would finance several programs aimed at helping people adversely affected by the War on Drugs or are otherwise socially and economically disadvantaged.
- Programs that would be funded by the OTF include a Community Reinvestment program to provide services & resources (like job training or substance abuse treatment); a Cannabis Opportunity Grant Program to make loans to help small marijuana businesses; and an Equitable Licensing Grant Program to reduce barriers to marijuana licensing & employment.
- Sponsored by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-NY), the bill passed the committee on a mostly party-line 24-10 vote, in which two Republicans ― Reps. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) and Tom McClintock (R-CA) ― joined all Democrats by voting in favor.
What’s the longer term outlook for federal marijuana reform?
- There is growing bipartisan support for marijuana reform in Congress. In September 2019, the House passed the SAFE Banking Act on a bipartisan 321-103 vote. The bill would allow marijuana-related businesses (in states where their industry is legal) to access the banking system, as federal law currently considers marijuana-related banking to be money laundering.
- The SAFE Banking Act was later included in House Democrats’ HEROES Act, a $3.4 trillion coronavirus relief package that passed the House on a party-line vote in May 2020, and in the $2.2 trillion Updated HEROES Act which passed on a similarly partisan vote in September 2020. Both have languished in the Senate amid ongoing negotiations about bipartisan coronavirus relief.
- The HEROES Act would also include a requirement that federal agencies report to Congress about barriers to marketplace entry for potential and existing minority-owned legitimate marijuana businesses, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has said that marijuana studies should be excluded from coronavirus relief as non-germane, making it unlikely to be included in a final bill.
- Additionally, in August 2020 the House considered an amendment to a $1.3 trillion “minibus” spending package that would prohibit the Dept. of Justice from using law enforcement grants to interfere with medical and/or recreational marijuana programs administered by states, tribes, and territories. The amendment was adopted on a bipartisan vote of 254-163 in which 222 Democrats, 31 Republicans, and the House’s lone Libertarian, Rep. Justin Amash (L-MI), voted in favor while 157 Republicans and six Democrats opposed it.
- In terms of a broader reform marijuana reform package, the bill that has gained the most bipartisan support to date is known as the Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States (STATES) Act, which would allow states, territories, the District of Columbia, and federally recognized tribes to regulate marijuana as they see fit. It would also ban marijuana sales to individuals under the age of 21 or at transportation safety facilities (like rest areas or truck stops), allow mariuana-related businesses to access banking services, and remove industrial hemp from the list of controlled substances.
- The STATES Act was introduced in the Senate by Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Cory Gardner (R-CO) and in the House by Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and David Joyce (R-OH), the bill hasn’t received a vote in either chamber but gained an grudging endorsement from Attorney General William Barr in April 2019 when he told the Senate Appropriations Committee:
“Personally, I would still favor one uniform federal rule against marijuana, but if there is no sufficient consensus to obtain that, then I think the way to go is to permit a more federal approach so states can make their own decisions within the framework of federal law, so we’re not just ignoring the enforcement of federal law.”
— Eric Revell
(Photo Credit: iStock.com / nattrass)
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