So now that the House of Representatives has passed the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, taking cannabis off the federal list of prohibited substances, is it time to celebrate? That depends.
If you want to acknowledge this is a historic moment for Congress, party on. But be careful, because cannabis is still not legal; this was mostly a symbolic measure as it is well known the bill has zero chance of passing the Senate and being signed into law. In fact, because the Senate will not take up the bill before the next session begins, the act will first have to be reintroduced in the House and be passed all over again.
Much depends on whether the Senate continues to be Republican controlled, or whether the Democrats take control by winning both Georgia Senate seats up for a January vote. Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell has made it clear the MORE Act will not pass. But even with a Democratic majority by virtue of incoming Vice President Kamala Harris’s 51-50 tie-breaking vote, passage would not be assured as there are senators on both sides likely to vote against the Act.
Yet if the stars fall into place and the MORE Act is passed in 2021, there is indeed more to do before cannabis can become fully legalized across the nation. States will still be able to ban cannabis under their own laws — making interstate commerce a possible minefield. The banking industry will have to make new regulations, as will the Department of the Treasury, the Food and Drug Administration, and other federal agencies.
Industry observers point out that we are almost three years past the passage of the Farm Bill that removed hemp from being a scheduled substance — and there are still uncertainties about and within the hemp industry. Normalization is complicated, and it takes time.
None of this is meant to diminish the importance of cannabis reform on the horizon. Should the MORE Act be signed into law as it is now written, cannabis will no longer be a controlled substance, past cannabis offenders will have records expunged, and a federal sales tax would provide opportunity grants for job training, legal aid, substance abuse programs and youth education. Provisions in the bill are likely to be changed between now and eventual passage — and cannabis rights groups still have issues with certain amendments — but the hope is that in 2021 cannabis law will catch up with what most Americans want.