Democratic leaders in the House of Representatives have postponed a vote on a marijuana decriminalization bill which had been scheduled for this week, succumbing to pressure from moderates in the party who want lawmakers to concentrate on COVID-19 pandemic relief efforts. According to party leadership the MORE Act vote delay will be pushed to later in the year.
If passed, the bill would decriminalize cannabis at the national level and enable the states to set their own cannabis regulation policies. The bill would also expunge convictions for many national cannabis related crimes and levy a 5 percent commercial cannabis taxation which would be spent in communities that have borne the brunt of the injury brought on by the War on Drugs.
“Right now, the House is focused relentlessly on securing agreement to fend off a damaging government shutdown and continued to do its job addressing the COVID-19 pandemic,” House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer stated in a statement. “Later this fall, the House will pass the MORE Act with strong support as yet another critical step toward making our justice system fair for all Americans.”
Hoyer continued, “The MORE Act remains a vital part of House Democrats’ strategy for addressing systemic racism and progressing criminal justice reform.”
Aside from coming to an agreement on a new pandemic relief bill, Congress is also working on a bill to maintain the national government budget responsibilities and avoid a shutdown. According to Democrats Rep. Earl Blumenauer of Oregon and California Rep. Barbara Lee, co-chairs of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, the Senate and the House are scheduled to recess in October, which would push the vote on the MORE Act into the lame-duck session after the November election. They said, “The leadership has given an ironclad commitment that the House will consider the bill this fall.”
Cannabis reform activists, business representatives, and lawmakers were quick to react to the the MORE Act vote delay. Maritza Perez, director of the office of national events in the Drug Policy Alliance, stated in a statement that the delay will result in “justice delayed for countless Black, Latina, Indigenous, and low-income people disproportionately impacted by our nation’s racist cannabis laws. We can’t continue to force those communities to await a politically convenient time while they continue to be robbed of employment opportunities, housing, schooling, other government programs, as well as their kids or immigration status.”
Cannabis industry investment firm CEO Joe Crouthers of Ceres Group Holdings stated that although the MORE Act might arguably be regarded as the best attempt at cannabis reform thus far, the end result is very likely to be more symbolic than transformative.
“The likelihood that this legislation gets passed by the Executive Branch and the Senate, irrespective of the upcoming election, is quite small. Additionally, while there are many elements of the bill worth observing, its shortcomings and possible unintended consequences shouldn’t be ignored, including another 5 percent excise tax on the cannabis industry, if not countered at the state level, is very likely to manifest itself in a push to the illegal market,”
Progressive Democratic Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez rejected the argument that lawmakers should concentrate on the pandemic, noting that the House passed a $3.2 trillion relief package in May that the Senate has not acted on.
“I feel like the urge to postpone the expungement of people’s documents is a fear-based reaction to Mitch McConnell and the Republican Party,” she said, speaking to the Senate majority leader. “And I don’t feel that we should be governing that way,” adding that Democrats ought to be”unapologetic” abut their agenda. “Why is it that the one racial justice bill is the one which has been singled out for postponement?” Ocasio-Cortez said. “I believe that is wrong.”
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