On Friday, April 1, 2022, the United States House of Representatives passed H.R. 3617, the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act (the “MORE Act”). The MORE Act would, among other things, remove cannabis from the schedule of controlled substances outlined in the federal Controlled Substances Act, provide for the regulation of cannabis sales, eliminate criminal penalties for the possession, manufacturing, and distribution of cannabis, and move for the expungement of federal cannabis convictions dating back to the early 1970s. While the MORE Act passed in the house with a 220-to-204 vote, the fact that only three Republicans voted in favor of the Act and two Democrats voted against it. The legislation will face a similarly uphill battle if it is brought to the Senate floor for a vote.
You may remember that the MORE Act was brought before the House in December of 2020 and it was passed then as well. However, it was not brought to the Senate for a vote in large part because the Senate was controlled by Republicans at the time and the likelihood that such a bill would pass the Senate at that time was essentially zero. In order to successfully pass through the Senate, a majority of Senators will need to vote in favor of the legislation and therefore it will be important for all Democratic Senators vote in favor of the bill.
While the House vote is a step in the right direction for cannabis decriminalization and regulation on the federal level, it is still unclear if/when the MORE Act will be sent to the Senate and if all Democratic Senators will vote in favor of it. Democratic Senators Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire have previously stated their opposition to the legalization of recreational cannabis. Going a step further, Senator Manchin has also indicated that he is wary of medical cannabis programs as well.
Notwithstanding Friday’s House vote, that same day Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer stated that he is hoping to formally file his own bill regarding federal cannabis legalization – the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act (CAOA) – at some point this month. Senator Schumer also noted that as Senate Majority leader he has the ability to set Senate priorities and that cannabis legalization is a priority for him. Given that Senator Schumer is set to file his own legislation, it seems unlikely that he will use his political influence to rally support for the MORE Act and therefore the future of federal cannabis legalization if very much still unclear.
Needless to say, the national cannabis community waits with bated breath to see if federal legalization will come to fruition this term. Check back here regularly for updates on the status of federal cannabis legislation as Rogoway Law Group monitors actions taken and pending on the federal level.