Last Friday, the US House of Representatives passed MORE act, a piece of legislation that, if approved by the Senate, would federally decriminalize cannabis in the US.
But what are the chances of that happening?
Soon to be sitting vice president, California Senator Kamala Harris introduced the companion bill to the MORE Act last July.
Should it become law, the act would remove cannabis from the US’s Controlled Substances Act and eliminate penalties for the cultivation, production, and possession of marijuana. There is also a provision to expunge previous cannabis offenses and create a sentencing review process for those convicted of federal crimes.
After a vote on in the House of Representatives on December 4, the act passed along party lines; 222 Democrats, 5 Republicans, and one Libertarian were in favor, while 158 Republicans and 6 Democrats were against.
The act is currently stuck in the Republican-controlled Finance Committee. And Republican and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has already signaled he will slow the act down for political reasons. If the Republicans keep the Senate, then, they are unlikely to pass the MORE act.
Even if the Democrats do manage to take the Senate after the runoffs in Georgia during January, it is likely that similar bills will again be launched in the House and Senate come the new session. And there is every reason to believe that such bills would have an easier time, particularly going into the midterms.
It is unlikely, however, that additional provisions, such as full recreational reform, will be attached.
Biden has been very clear about his support for marijuana’s medical aspects, less so on the recreational side. Indeed, given current political trends, it is also unlikely that the Republicans in Congress would want to give Biden any more political wins.
Some version of the MORE act is likely to pass in the next several years, then, particularly if the Democrats retake the Senate. It may also be used as a bargaining chip with a Biden-led White House that is eager to find ways to compromise across a highly partisan aisle.
Recreational reform, however, is still another animal altogether. Don't look for the same until at least the end of Biden's first term in office.
The pace of reform in the United States will continue to be led by the states
It could be that full cannabis reform will only happen after more than half of US states pass some form of the same. Presently, about third of Americans live in jurisdictions where cannabis is fully legal.
Will the next four years see more states join the cause? The jury is still out.
What is undeniably true is that no matter how inconsequential last week’s vote was on changing the law, it is the first time in 50 years that a federal law-making body has revisited the question of cannabis legalization. And it will not be the last.
The approval of the MORE Act proves the cannabis debate is far from over, and so much more is yet to come, albeit on a delayed schedule.
Marguerite Arnold is a journalist and author. Her next book, Green II: Spreading Like Kudzu, about the inside story of the German cannabis cultivation bid, will be published on December 1, 2020.