This Week’s Historic House Vote on Cannabis Legalization Is Unlikely to Get Support From Joe Biden

The MORE Act would reschedule cannabis and finally end federal prohibition after 83 years. The legislation also underscores President Elect Biden’s refusal to expend political capital against the GOP on this and many other crucial criminal justice, economic, and social issues.

By Bubba Krishnamurti

Photo by Daniel Norin

Tomorrow, the U.S. House of Representatives is scheduled to vote on legislation that would end the federal ban on marijuana. This will be the first time any such bill has gotten this far in that chamber. Unfortunately, the bill is expected to see little to no support in the Republican-controlled Senate. President-Elect Joe Biden has already come out publicly against legalization in preference of decriminalization. Senate Leader Mitch McConnell has made no indications of any willingness to reverse the historic, draconian laws against cannabis. Neither Biden or McConnell are in step with the now two thirds of Americans who support outright legalization. 

As the bill is drafted, the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, sponsored by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D–N.Y.), would take cannabis off of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) schedules and remove federal criminal penalties for growing, distributing, or possessing the plant. The legislation provides for “an automatic process” of expunging the criminal histories of those that were convicted of federal crimes related to cannabis and authorizes the resentencing of prisoners currently serving time for these ‘crimes.’

The MORE Act—which has 120 almost exclusively Democratic cosponsors, would end the denial of federal public benefits due to convictions related to cannabis and remove immigration roadblocks related to cannabis. True to Big D -Democrtaic form, the bill would impose a 5 percent federal tax on cannabis and it’s related products. The funds would be directed to law enforcement organizations ( booooo) and a ‘Community Reinvestment Grant Program’ intended to provide “services for individuals most adversely impacted by the War on Drugs.”

Despite tabling the legislation earlier this year as to not seem ‘anti-law enforcement’, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D–Md.) last week announced that the vote will happen Wednesday, Thursday, or Friday.

“I’ve been working on this issue longer than any politician in America and can confidently say that the MORE Act is the most comprehensive federal cannabis reform legislation in U.S. history,” Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D–Ore.), co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, wrote in a press release last week. “Our vote to pass it next week will come after people in five very different states reaffirmed the strong bipartisan support to reform the failed cannabis prohibition. National support for federal cannabis legalization is at an all-time high….Congress must capitalize on this momentum and do our part to end the failed policy of prohibition.” 

Though this legislation may fall short for many cannabis advocates, House Democrats have taken a far more aggressive approach compared to President-elect Joe Biden. Biden is a ‘supposedly reformed drug warrior’ who continues to deny both public opinion and science on cannabis legislation.  Cannabis issues have the strange effect of making Biden sound like GOP members — echoing state’s rights sentiments like “leave decisions regarding legalization for recreational use up to the states.”

Joe Biden’s refusal to get in line with his nation and party in such a popular position is unfortunately testament to his refusal to accept the mandate he received in the election and use it. Cannabis legalization is a critical component of criminal justice reform and a potential boon for the economy in dire times. It seems he is either unwilling to expend political capital to fight Republicans on this issue or is completely subordinate to the pharmaceutical companies that helped fund him.


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