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Nationwide cannabis legalization bill advances on Capitol Hill

November 20, 2019
marijuana legalization, congress, cannabis, congress
Nationwide legalization passed out of committee. Now it moves on to the full House for consideration. (sborisov/iStock)

Cannabis legalization advocates and allies are cheering the advance of the MORE Act, which moved to the full floor of Congress Wednesday morning after a historic committee vote. The committee tally included 22 Democrats and two Republicans voting in favor of the measure.

The MORE Act passed out of committee, 24-10. Now it goes to the full House.

Some 66% of Americans want to end federal cannabis prohibition—citing its injustice, failure, and cost.

The 24-10 vote in the House Judiciary Committee is the first time a House committee has approved ending marijuana prohibition. The Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act of 2019, or H.R. 3884, deschedules cannabis, expunges records, and earmarks federal tax revenue for small, minority-owned businesses. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) sponsored the bill, and it currently has 55 cosponsors.

In 2018, police made more than 663,000 marijuana-related arrests—a three-year high. Cannabis is the most prevalent type of drug arrest, and drug arrests are the most prevalent type of arrest police make. Numerous studies have found that people of color are more likely to be arrested for marijuana, despite use rates similar to national averages.


Congress takes a historic first step on national cannabis legalization

One step closer to prohibition’s end

Advocates like Drug Policy Alliance Executive Director Maria McFarland Sánchez-Moreno cheered the vote. “The United States is coming one step closer to ending the devastating harms of marijuana prohibition, which have fallen so heavily on black and brown people,” she said.

Citizen activism played a role. Longtime advocacy group NORML helped citizens send 55,000 messages to their Congressional representatives supporting the MORE Act in the space of just two days.


American Bar Association Tells Feds: Let States Legalize Cannabis

“Opposition to our failed war on marijuana has reached a boiling point with over two-thirds of all Americans,” said NORML Executive Director Erik Altieri, “including majorities of all political persuasions, now supporting legalization. Congress should respect the will of the people and promptly approve the MORE Act and close this dark chapter of failed public policy.”

Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), a longtime legalization advocate and a founder and co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, said today’s vote was “exciting and frankly very emotional for me to be in the Judiciary Committee hearing room as Chairman Nadler announced the final vote. … This vote was a vote for progressive reform, for racial justice, for personal freedom, for economic opportunity, and for better health.”

What’s in the MORE Act

Legalization opponents Project SAM had no immediate statement after the House Judiciary vote. Before the vote, Project SAM stated that the bill “contains no provisions protecting youth from the marijuana industry.” Studies have found that underage cannabis use has not increased following state-regulated legalization.


Leafly study debunks dispensary myths around crime & teen use

The MORE Act does contain provisions that would shield youth from the incarceration industry, however. The MORE Act:

  • Strikes “marihuana” off the Controlled Substances Act
  • Ends cannabis discrimination for federal benefits and immigration
  • Enacts federal resentencing and expungement
  • Institutes a 5% cannabis tax
  • Creates a Cannabis Justice Office
  • Starts tracking race and gender in the industry
  • Creates a trust fund
  • Creates a community reinvestment grant program and equitable licensing grants
  • Green-lights federal Small Business Administration assistance

McFarland Sánchez-Moreno said, “This legislation won’t make up for the full scale of harm that prohibition has caused to its victims. It’s not going to return anyone their lost dreams, time lost at the mercy of the criminal justice system; or the years spent away from their families. But this legislation is the closest we’ve come yet to not only ending those harms at the federal level, but also beginning to repair them.”

“Now it’s up to Congress to do the right thing and swiftly pass the bill to ensure justice is not delayed a moment longer.”

David Downs's Bio Image

David Downs

David Downs directs news and lifestyle coverage as the California Bureau Chief for He's written for WIRED, Rolling Stone and Billboard, and is the former cannabis editor of the San Francisco Chronicle, as well as the author of several cannabis books including 'Marijuana Harvest' by Ed Rosenthal and David Downs. He co-hosts The Hash podcast. TW: @davidrdowns | IG @daviddowns

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  • Richard Michael✓ᴺᵃᵗᶦᵒᶰᵃˡᶦˢᵗ

    About Time…

    • Joe Stause

      I think if your not to legalizing Marijuana then your probably getting a kickback from the pharmaceutical companies

    • Timothy j flath

      But of course the feds want there 5% on top of what some states like mass charge, makeing the cost of cannabis prohibitive, your going to still have dry states with draconian laws, but it is a start.

  • Jessica A.

    It is a decriminalization bill. It aims to de-schedule marijuana, which merely decriminalizes it. Calling it a legalization bill is incredibly misleading.

    • Kimberly Fortner

      It’s still a small step in the right direction…🤷🏻‍♀️

    • BruceIshikawa

      What is the difference between decriminalization and legalization? The “legalization” states have built up elaborate and unnecessary control structures to manage and tax cannabis. Removing all prohibitive language (decriminalization) and returning weed to the status that lettuce currently has would be the most natural, sensible approach.

    • Steve

      yeah listen to this. How long till Texas passed full legal. And what about Oklahoma medicinal plan? I guess things might get easier. Sure are jobs C r o p p ing Up.

    • justadbeer

      It’s not misleading at all. It does much more than just de-schedule. READ the bill!

    • Mike Hazelwood

      “Total Legalization”, would be foolish at this point! We would soon have a generation of young “Stoners”, with a Cell Phone Video Game in one hand and a Cannabis Vape Pen in the other! Nationwide Recreational use, would need to be carefully integrated into our Adult Society and every possible effort made, to keep it from our “Super Spoiled Youth” of today! Most Youth today, are given NO Responsibilities of any kind and end up expecting everything to be given to them! My parents never gave me anything that I didn’t NEED! The Luxuries I had as a teen, I paid for with money I earned! My two sons, grew up much the same way, working! Few Kids today, would do that and recreational cannabis, would only worsen the issue! We should proceed slowly and carefully in “Legaliztion” of Cannabis, lest we regret changing anything at all!

      • Stimpy

        Alcohol prohibition didn’t work. Marijuana prohibition doesn’t work. Lives have been ruined because of it. Personal responsibility is what is needed, not more Nanny State rules and regulations. Kids can and do abuse alcohol. Guess what, they can and do abuse pot right now. Once legal the kids can find something else to abuse to practice their youthful rebellion. Oh and by the way, once decriminalized people, young and old, who smoke pot won’t have to fear and hate cops.

    • disqus_Jk1a30s0

      Let’s pass it and keep on moving forward. While it may be a misleading headline, it’s a definite step in the right direction.

  • Highway 69

    Anything to remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act is a good start.

  • PatrickMonkRn

    Legalization does NOT end Prohibition, it merely codifies it in perpetuity.

  • Sunset Sue

    It’s about time congress removes cannabis from controlled substances. Everyone who uses cannabis knows it is not the demon drug its been tagged with for all these decades. Now the only problem will be with the 5% federal tax they are including in the bill. When you add that on to the already high cannabis taxes we pay in California, it will encourage more black market sales which don’t collect any taxes. There are more unregulated businesses In CA than regulated. Between city and state taxes we pay almost 25%. With 5% federal taxes added on, it will be almost 30% tax. California legislature Is now realizing they aren’t receiving as much revenue as they thought due to the high taxes encouraging more black market stores and deliveries. They are now talking about reducing state taxes to reduce the unregulated black market but they’re talking only about reducing it 1-2%. That won’t do much to reduce unregulated shops and deliveries. Leave it to government to not get how commerce works. People will normally go to businesses that have the lower prices.

  • Robert Dale Ackerly

    Treason in the White House since 1776. The drug laws are evil promoting prison, evil, gangs and treason.

  • Robert Dale Ackerly

    The fed reserve bank makes the laws and the War for profit, prisons for profits or civilian and military, rich man poor man Pedifiles in the Pentagon writer the programs. NAMI is run by the pentagon.

    • Stimpy

      Tell us what you were smoking when you wrote that.

  • Well done article, David. Thank you.

    This govt has passed some of the finest bi-partisan legislation this country has ever seen. This is among the finest.
    This proves a lot can be accomplished if these asshats will quit bickering.

    Hopefully the Senate will clinch this. Trump has promised to sign it.

    Though more needs to be done, this is very pleasing to an activist of four decades. 😎

  • Morgan Gritley

    decades of this gov’t/political BS. it has ruined millions of lives. all for a few people’s benefit, think nixion and anderson. but the police, the courts, the lawyers, and others have made their livings off the backs of illegal weed. the misinformation, propaganda should be remembered by all. it is proof of how far some in power will go and others will remain silent so they can keep that power. while the average person pays the price.

    we’re stepping into an even more insane political world with authoritarianism growing, not just in the usofa, but world wide.

    legalizing weed is a positive step in the correct direction. we need legalized quality education, pre-school through post grad and quality public health care too gain real freedom.

    • shimbaru

      Bernie Sanders will do all three. Feel the Bern 2020!

  • informativex

    Adding this to the list of GREAT things that happened under Trump along with the prosecution of Jeffrey Epstein and – Obama would never have signed this but Trump would. Actions speak louder than words.

    • Stimpy

      That only shows what a hypocrite Obama was. Black and brown people have, after all, been the ones who have disproportionately suffered under marijuana prohibition.

  • Altair

    Fire in da hole!

  • Don Podlas

    I started using cannabis over 50 years ago as a 19 year old Marine in Chu Lai, Viet Nam. I really thought this would all be done by now but hey, it is a start. I just hope Congress isn’t as constipated as I expect them to be…..

    • Dennis Bilyou

      Yup, same here, Chu Lai 1971at signal corp,army by the beach and USO. Would rather have had some one smoke than be drunk having my 6.

  • 360dunk

    After 50 years of smoking ganja in the stealth mode, I can finally fire up the funk in my very own front yard…..while waving a friendly hello to that passing squad car. Knowing they can’t arrest me, issue a citation, or confiscate my weed is a new, but satisfying feeling. Progress, folks.

    • Bob Khan

      Before this comment confuses people in illegal states, it’s not decriminalized federally just yet. The bill still has to go up for a full vote on the House floor, which it will likely pass. Next it needs to pass Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who may not allow it to hit the Senate floor. After that is the full Senate vote, which may not pass because many Republican politicians are still skittish on the issue of legal cannabis. If it makes it to the President’s desk, he will likely sign it, as he has argued against prohibition.

      Even it Marijuana is descheduled on a federal level, I am fairly certain that each state can still enact their own laws on the sacred herb. I know my deep red state of Texas will likely be one of the last to allow recreational consumption of THC, we still have entire counties down here where sales of alcoholic beverages are prohibited.

      Play safe and stay safe.

      • 360dunk

        Lighting up a joint in front of a cop should make it obvious I’m in a legal state.

        As for your other point, since 2014, Congress has approved a budget amendment (Rohrabacher-Farr) that prohibits the Department of Justice to use funds to prevent states from implementing their medical marijuana laws. In other words, the feds are required to steer clear of weed-legal states these days.

  • Azlorn Magus

    I smoke weed and I’m ok.

  • Anna Lockard

    Why keep track of race and gender? Wtf is the point of this?

    • dan fernandez

      Really, That viewpoint is all sorts of wrong. One would use those statistics to show the discrepancy in weed related arrests. Hello? discrimination of people who are not white…Make sense now?