The MORE Act: Hope, Concerns, and Controversy

[Update: The mostly symbolic House vote was successful; 1ET Dec 5 2020]

The U.S. House set to vote on the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment, and Expungement (MORE) Act, HR 3884 today, which its 100+ cosponsors hope could, among other things, remove cannabis from the federal schedule of controlled substances. This would return power over cannabis use and production to individual states, 33 of which have already moved to allow cannabis use by at least some residents, some of the time.

Advocates around the country, hungry for progress after years of pressure, are hailing the largely symbolic vote as progress in itself.

“This floor vote represents the first Congressional roll call ever on the question of ending federal marijuana criminalization,” Justin Strekal, the political director for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), said in a press release.

Peachtree NORML has also urged members of the U.S. House to vote for the bill, signaling a willingness to end cannabis prohibition and the flagrant violations of civil rights which have accompanied it. A majority vote on the bill would demonstrate that some national lawmakers have heard the cry of the overwhelming majority of Americans. But will the MORE Act, even if it is passed by the House, do much for reform?

Probably not. Even if the bill finds sufficient votes to pass in the House, it is expected to die in the Senate, where partisan leadership has repeatedly dodged the question.

Why We Want ‘Less than M.O.R.E.’

The MORE Act itself is not without critics, including many staunchly pro-cannabis activists who say the bill’s unintended consequences could actually make things worse for cannabis patients and consumers.

The MORE Act also includes a controversial 5% federal tax (one proposed amendment would make it 8% over 3 years) on cannabis sales, which are already steeply taxed by individual states. The regulatory model proposed in the MORE Act also gives a new federal agency the power to regulate and profit from what the feds have long called a crime.

High taxes and regulatory hurdles would push “legalized” cannabis out of reach of many who rely on it, effectively keeping them in the black market and subject to criminal penalties.

Veterans and people with chronic health conditions, often hailed as key groups benefitting from cannabis reform, are more likely to live on fixed incomes. High taxes, and the high prices that often result from tightly regulated markets, will effectively force these vulnerable individuals to obtain medicine in ways that would still be federally illegal.

The highly addictive opiates and other pharmaceutical drugs, from which many are trying to escape by using low-side-effect, relatively low-cost cannabis, continue to be subsidized for these same populations. Cannabis is proven to help people leave these drugs behind (and reduce the risks of overdose, suicide, and other life altering side effects) but for the working and middle class, paying more for a safer alternative may not be an option.

The MORE Act’s “restorative justice” provisions, which purport to use a portion of collected taxes to empower individuals who’ve been victimized by cannabis prohibition and the War on Drugs, are also replete with opportunities for waste, abuse, and mismanagement. If nothing else, such taxes continues to take money away from American communities and their priorities, and reassign that money to politicians who have shown minimal appreciation for the consequences of their actions on those communities.

Maybe Next Time? Ask Georgia Senate Candidates

Nationwide, proponents of ending cannabis prohibition have looked to the Georgia runoff for U.S. Senate as a barometer for future cannabis reform. If Democrats fill those seats, many reason, cannabis reform can pass; if Republicans fill them, it likely will not.

Peachtree NORML reminds all lawmakers, especially Georgians, that ending cannabis prohibition should be a nonpartisan national priority. Whether you’re motivated by states rights’ under the 10th Amendment, a desire for smaller government and less regulation, a passion for criminal justice reform and restoring the 4th and 14th amendments, a desire for restorative justice for damaged communities, or some other reason, it’s past time to end cannabis prohibition.

A future, simpler bill than the MORE Act could remove federal prohibition WITHOUT a massive regulate-and-tax scheme that will continue to make many peaceful, vulnerable people into criminals.