House set to consider marijuana decriminalization; Hoyer schedules MORE Act vote

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The House is scheduled to vote next week on a bill to decriminalize marijuana at the federal level, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, announced Friday.

Mr. Hoyer’s office released an updated legislative schedule for next week that said the full House will consider the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act, also called the MORE Act.

The MORE Act would federally decriminalize marijuana by removing it from the government’s list of controlled substances and removing existing criminal penalties for people who grow, sell or use it.

As currently written, passage of the bill would also expunge low-level marijuana convictions, provide protections to immigrants who work in the cannabis industry and impose a 5% federal tax on sales.

The bill would also establish and award grants meant for individuals most adversely affected by the War on Drugs, specifically including people with narcotic convictions and their immediate families.

Rep. Earl Blumenauer, Oregon Democrat and founder and co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, called the MORE Act the “most comprehensive federal cannabis reform legislation” ever considered.

And the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, the pro-legalization group better known as NORML, said the act itself of voting to federally decriminalize marijuana will be a first.

“National support for federal cannabis legalization is at an all-time high and almost 99% of Americans will soon live in states with some form of legal cannabis,” Mr. Blumenauer said in a statement.

“Congress must capitalize on this momentum and do our part to end the failed policy of prohibition that has resulted in a long and shameful period of selective enforcement against communities of color,” Mr. Blumenauer added.

House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler, New York Democrat, introduced the bill in July 2018, and its number of co-sponsors has swelled in the subsequent 16 months to include 120 members of Congress.

Support for legalizing marijuana has swelled as well, evidence in part by the growing number of states to pass laws defying federal prohibition. Five voted to legalize marijuana just this month.

Marijuana has long been listed under the U.S. Controlled Substances Act as a Schedule 1 drug, placing it in the same category as heroin and other drugs considered to have no medical value or benefit.

A majority of states have legalized marijuana for medicinal or recreational purposes, however, including 10 and counting where retail pot is taxed and sold at licensed and regulated dispensaries.

“This floor vote represents the first Congressional roll call ever on the question of ending federal marijuana criminalization,” said Justin Strekal, political director for the pro-legalization group. “By advancing the MORE Act, the House of Representatives sends an unmistakable signal that America is ready to close the book marijuana prohibition and end the senseless oppression and fear that this failed policy wreaks on otherwise law-abiding citizens.”

Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida is currently the only House Republican listed as a co-sponsor of the MORE Act. Amendments to the bill are likely to be considered before the final vote is conducted.

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