• October 28, 2020

Marijuana Reform is Stalled in Congress but Passage is Still Possible in 2020

 Marijuana Reform is Stalled in Congress but Passage is Still Possible in 2020

Photo by Lizzy Oakley https://www.lizzyoakley.com/

In late August, various news outlets reported that the House of Representatives was prepared to hold a floor vote on the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment, and Expungement Act (better known simply as the MORE Act) in September. The vote would mark the first time either chamber of Congress voted to lift the federal prohibition on marijuana since passage of the Controlled Substances Act of 1970.

Then, a week prior to the expected vote, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer announced a change in strategy. While postponing the already planned September vote, he publicly committed to holding a full vote in the House by the end of the year. 

”The MORE Act remains a critical component of House Democrats’ plan for addressing systemic racism and advancing criminal justice reform, and we are committed to bringing it to the floor for a vote before the end of the year,” Hoyer said

So what happened? Who or what is to blame for this delay, and what should cannabis reform supporters do in the meantime?

In short, the toxic partisan nature of Washington, DC in large part doomed the planned September vote. Many Republican lawmakers expressed strong opposition to the vote. They claimed Democrats were ignoring acting on bigger priorities. While this criticism was far more political in nature than it was substantive, it clearly rattled a small but significant number of congressional incumbents locked in tight races who didn’t want to vote on marijuana before enacting another coronavirus stimulus package.

This decision to delay the MORE Act vote came just one day before the release of new survey data showing that the majority of Republican and Democratic voters alike support passage of the bill. A full 70 percent of Democrats and 53 percent of Republicans say they support the measure, according to the Justice Collaborative Institute and Data for Progress. ,  That’s not an outlier. It’s consistent with polling data compiled earlier this year.

While the delay is disappointing, it changes little. Specifically:

●       This delay does not change the fact that the overwhelming majority of voters support ending the federal prohibition of cannabis, including majorities of Democrats, Independents, and Republicans.

●       This delay does not change the fact that 33 states and the District of Columbia regulate the production and distribution of medical cannabis in a manner that is inconsistent with federal policy, and that one-out-of-four Americans now reside in jurisdictions where adult-use is legal under state law.

●       This delay does not change the fact that voters in several states, including key electoral battleground states, will be taking up – and likely passing -similar state-level marijuana measures on Election Day.

●       This delay does not change the fact that the days of federal marijuana criminalization and prohibition are drawing to a close.

Our next steps are fairly straight forward.

First, marijuana policy reform supporters must contribute their efforts and assistance toward passing the pending ballot initiatives in Arizona, Montana, Mississippi, New Jersey, and South Dakota.

Second, citizens must continue to contact their lawmakers and insist that they cosponsor the MORE Act in the House. At the time of the postponement, the bill had 111 congressional cosponsors. Now, just over a week later, that total has ticked up to 114.

Should we fail to do either one of these things, it will be easier for House leadership to find some justification to renege on Leader Hoyer’s recent commitment for a vote this year.

But should we have a strong showing on election night and should we continue to gain additional congressional support in the coming weeks, then 2020 will be the year that we see the first-ever vote to end federal marijuana prohibition. 

This will set the stage for the new Congress to continue to build upon our momentum.Depending on the make-up of the Senate, the possibility of ending the federal prohibition on marijuana in the first 100 days of the next administration is still real.

Justin Strekal

Justin Strekal

Justin Strekal is the political director for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), where he serves as an advocate to end the federal criminalization and prohibition of marijuana.

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