This year has been a watershed moment for the marijuana legalization effort. With New Jersey and four other states using referenda actions to legalize the drug, 2020 could be the year that the federal ban on marijuana is finally lifted. In fact, U.S. House Representatives passed legislation in December that removes marijuana from the list of federally prohibited controlled substances. This landmark legislation, which has been received in the Senate on December 7, 2020 and referred to the Committee on Finance, was first proposed prior to the Thanksgiving break but was postponed as lawmakers feared that a vote on legalization before reaching a stimulus deal would rub voters the wrong way. Still, with more than 68 percent of Americans in favor of marijuana legalization, the time seems right for a push towards federal change.
The Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment And Expungement Act
At the forefront of the federal marijuana legalization debate is the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act (MORE Act). Authored by Congressman Jerry Nadler (D-NY), this bill seeks to accomplish federal legalization through a few specific means:
- Decriminalizes marijuana at the federal level by removing the substance from the list of scheduled substances under the Controlled Substances Act (applies to prior and pending convictions)
- Allows states to set their own policy on marijuana
- Requires federal courts to expunge prior convictions (prior offenders request expungement; courts conduct re-sentencing hearings for those still under supervision)
- Authorizes the assessment of a five percent sales tax on marijuana and marijuana-based products to create an Opportunity Trust Fund
- Requires the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics to collect data on the demographics of the industry to ensure that both people of color and those who are economically disadvantaged are participating in the industry
Bill Faces Uncertainty In The Senate
MORE passed in the House; however, it is now in the Senate’s domain. There is much uncertainty in the Senate as runoff elections in Georgia are days away. Entrenched Republican Senators have held firm to their position of continuing the status quo: vote no on weed. Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell has been steadfast in his opposition to any change in marijuana’s federal status. The prospect of the bill becoming law before the end of the year is slim.
Still, the hurdles to federal legalization may be bypassed through piece-meal legislation. With lawmakers signaling support for legislation that would allow for marijuana businesses to legally access U.S. banks, a more realistic approach to the dilemma caused by the federal ban may be to address the specific concerns of the industry as opposed to outright federal legalization.