In December of 2020 the House of Representatives finally voted to approve the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act. If passed, the bill would deschedule cannabis and decriminalize it at the federal level. But that doesn’t mean marijuana would immediately become legal across the U.S.—the bill would leave it to the states to decide how they want to regulate the substance, and would not have to worry about the federal government interfering with their legal cannabis practices. (Self)
Descheduling cannabis means that cannabis could be administratively transferred to a less-restrictive category or removed from Controlled Substances Act regulation altogether. This means that cannabis will be treated and regulated similar to tobacco and cigarettes. Although there is scientific research proving that cannabis provides numerous medical benefits, the US federal government currently classifies cannabis as Schedule I drug. This means that cannabis is classified as a substance as dangerous as heroin, which also falls in the CSA’s Schedule I, with no medical value. (The Cannabis Industry)
American cannabis businesses were declared essential in states with regulated markets during the pandemic. This classification added to the legitimacy of the cannabis producing industry in the eyes of many, while providing uninterrupted healthcare, jobs, and tax revenue for their employees during a very challenging economic and public health environment.
The vote marks the first time in 50 years that a chamber of Congress has ever revisited the classification of cannabis as a federally controlled and prohibited substance. This points towards closing the division between state and federal marijuana policies.
Benefits of federal legalization/decriminalization for cannabis producers:
Transportation across state lines
Current federal law strictly prohibits marijuana from crossing state lines, including among states where the sale of marijuana is legal for medical purposes. The federal restriction on interstate commerce has caused imbalance in the markets. For example, hundreds of pounds of marijuana rots in Oregon because the state cannot export it across state lines, even to neighboring Nevada, where use of marijuana for medical purposes is legal, but where marijuana is much more difficult to grow. (Criminal Defense Lawyer)
Simplified business expansion opportunities
Unified regulations at the federal level will simplify the process of business expansion into new states. Producers won’t have to adjust operations so heavily to meet state level regulations and requirements.
Successful distribution networks
With unified policies and regulations across the country, successful distribution networks can replicate operations efficiently in other states. Businesses who develop a cookie cutter approach to cannabis distribution will save time and money when expanding over state lines.
Straightforward production standards
It becomes easier to produce marijuana products according to a nationwide standard vs state standards. For example, producers can operate a larger production scale at a lower cost instead of developing products at differing, specific potency levels for different states.
Reduce uncertainty about criminal liability
As the law would remain consistent nationwide, there would be diminished confusion among what is considered criminal and what is not in differing geographic locations.
The passing is largely symbolic, since the Senate is unlikely to vote on its version of the bill before the new Congress convenes in 2021, which was introduced by then-senator Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris last July. It would need to be reintroduced and be passed in both the U.S. House and the U.S. Senate if it were to head to the next President’s desk for consideration to become law. (Dr. Bronner)
Currently, the bill is facing challenges towards making it through Congress due to Republican opposition in the Senate. The DPA (Drug Policy Alliance) currently believes that “the responsible regulation and control of marijuana will be more beneficial to society and the public’s health than prohibiting and criminalizing it,” which is backed by 16 organizations and over 100 individuals, including epidemiologists and public health experts.
Overall, the current version of the bill isn’t perfect, and still needs to be passed through the Senate. Although activists are celebrating this victory as a historic moment for federal cannabis legislation as it is representative of just how much political and public opinions towards cannabis have changed.