Wash, rinse and repeat. That seems to be the mantra federal legislators are taking toward marijuana legalization. We’ve heard this story before, and with a vote on a familiar legalization bill approaching, we should expect a similar fate.
The U.S. House of Representatives could vote as early as Wednesday on an amended version of the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, which passed through the House in 2020 but stalled in the U.S. Senate.
The latest version of the MORE Act – in addition to removing marijuana from the U.S. DEA’s list of federally banned drugs – includes amendments to require U.S. officials to develop policy for cannabis DUI cases and best practices for workplace users. Other amendments include provisions that make marijuana DUIs a deportable offense for undocumented immigrants, impose stringent penalties for illegal sales of flavored cannabis products, and add a requirement that packaging of marijuana products is “child-proof.”
The feds would charge a 5 percent excise tax on legal sales of the plant, and provide a legal process for people previously convicted of low-level cannabis crimes to have those crimes expunged from their criminal records.
With House leadership looking to pass the bill for the second time in three years, activists say the bill is still a longshot to reach the desk of President Joe Biden. Even if the MORE Act does arrive to the White House, it’s unlikely that Biden would sign it into law.
Biden, one of many U.S. politicians to promote the federal War on Drugs crusade since the 1970s, took a measured tone on cannabis during his 2020 presidential campaign. He focused on the racial and criminal justice angles of potentially rescheduling the plant, a position White House press secretary Jen Psaki reaffirmed last July. Just two months after Biden took office, though, his administration fired five White House staffers for using the plant.
Last year, Democrat Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer pledged federal action to remove the plant of the DEA’s list of banned drugs by April 20, 2022. A proposal from Republican Rep. Nancy Mace of South Carolina also revitalized optimism late last year.
Mace’s bill and a long awaited Senate bill called Cannabis Administration & Opportunity Act that Schumer plans to file in April could also be voted on in the coming weeks. But until the Senate can conjure up enough votes to end prohibition and Biden offers his full support, cannabis advocates shouldn’t count on federal legalization happening anytime soon.