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What Is The MORE Act and Will It Federally Legalize Cannabis?

At the end of March, the House of Representatives approved the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment, and Expungement (MORE) Act. House Judiciary Chairman, Jerrold Nadler, even tweeted, “This bill will reverse decades of failed federal policies based on the criminalization of marijuana.” He continued by saying, “For far too long, we have treated marijuana as a criminal justice problem instead of as a matter of personal choice and public health.

While there is absolutely reason to celebrate, this move doesn’t necessarily equal complete legalization at the federal level. That being said, if it passes in the senate, it may pave the way for positive changes in the cannabis industry. 

Read on to learn what the MORE Act really is, who it will impact, and what it spells for federal cannabis legalization.

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The MORE Act and Cannabis Decriminalization

Need a quick rundown? No problem!

  • The MORE act will decriminalize cannabis, remove it from the list of scheduled substances, and eliminate criminal penalties for those who manufacture, distribute, or possess cannabis. 
  • It will also replace statutory references to marijuana or marihuana with cannabis, establish a trust fund to support programs and services in communities impacted by the war on drugs, impose an excise tax on cannabis products, make SBA loans and services more available to cannabis-related businesses, and more.
  • What won’t it do? Technically, it won’t federally legalize cannabis. While it will be decriminalized at the federal level, the MORE act leaves regulatory discretion up to states and doesn’t require states to legalize cannabis either.
  • This also isn’t the first time the MORE act has passed in the House. In 2020, it passed but stalled in the senate. Some are worried the same will happen this time around.

What is the MORE Act?

In the simplest sense, the MORE act will decriminalize cannabis, remove it from the list of scheduled substances, and eliminate criminal penalties for those who manufacture, distribute, or possess cannabis. Additionally, the summary from congress states that the MORE act:

  • replaces statutory references to marijuana and marihuana with cannabis,
  • requires the Bureau of Labor Statistics to regularly publish demographic data on cannabis business owners and employees,
  • establishes a trust fund to support various programs and services for individuals and businesses in communities impacted by the war on drugs,
  • imposes an excise tax on cannabis products produced in or imported into the United States and an occupational tax on cannabis production facilities and export warehouses,
  • makes Small Business Administration loans and services available to entities that are cannabis-related legitimate businesses or service providers,
  • prohibits the denial of federal public benefits to a person on the basis of certain cannabis-related conduct or convictions,
  • prohibits the denial of benefits and protections under immigration laws on the basis of a cannabis-related event (e.g., conduct or a conviction),
  • establishes a process to expunge convictions and conduct sentencing review hearings related to federal cannabis offenses, and
  • directs the Government Accountability Office to study the societal impact of cannabis legalization.

The excise tax, in particular, has caused some confusion. According to the actual text, there will be a 5% excise tax on cannabis products for the first two years. Each year after that, the tax will increase by 1% until it ultimately reaches an 8% excise tax.

Will the MORE Act Federally Legalize Cannabis?

Technically, no. While the provisions in the MORE act are historic and essential, they only decriminalize cannabis instead of fully legalizing it. If you look at the actual text, the word “legalize” doesn’t appear even once. 

Essentially, cannabis will still be prohibited by law, but the legal system won’t prosecute or criminalize someone for manufacturing, distributing, or possessing under a certain amount of cannabis. It also won’t require states to legalize cannabis and leaves regulatory discretion up to states as well. 

Federal Legalization is Closer Than Ever. However…

This isn’t the first time the MORE act has passed in the House. A nearly identical version passed in 2020 but never moved beyond the Senate. The most recent version of the MORE act will need to undergo the same process and some are doubtful it will acquire senate approval.

Doubts are even more understandable considering how narrowly the MORE act passed in the house (220-204 with only three republicans supporting and two democrats opposing). Some members see legalization as inevitable while others still view the MORE act as flawed. 

Rep. Cliff Bentz (R-OR) opposed the bill saying “What’s deeply and truly disturbing, however, about this bill is its failure to address the clear consequences of legalization.” He argued that the passage will negatively impact children and lead to additional traffic accidents. Rep. Andy Biggs (R-AZ) opposed reform because of concerns about increased potency in cannabis products. He called it “reckless” due to the lack of THC limits. 

It’s important to remember, however, that the MORE Act could increase revenue by billions of dollars while reducing prison costs. Additionally, the Senate recently approved a bipartisan bill that promotes cannabis research. Clearly, the overall attitude towards cannabis is changing.

NCIA Chief Executive Officer and co-founder, Aaron Smith, even said in a statement “With voter support for legal cannabis at an all-time high and more and more states moving away from prohibition, we commend the House for once again taking this step to modernize our federal marijuana policies. Now is the time for the Senate to act on sensible reform legislation so that we can finally end the failure of prohibition and foster a well regulated marketplace for cannabis.”

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