For the second time in US history, the US House of Representatives passed the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act which would deschedule cannabis, removing it from the list of prohibited controlled substances. It would not create a federally regulated cannabis licensing program, however commercial cannabis sold under state laws would be subject to high federal excise taxes and other federal laws that the cannabis industry has thus far ignored. State-licensed businesses would have to pay an annual fee and jump through more hoops to prove compliance with federal laws.
The Act in its current form would also provide some civil protections for users and patients and create a program for expungement of nonviolent cannabis convictions. It has provisions for funding equity programs and incentivizes states to include equity in their programs. Unfortunately the Act does not require states to provide safe and affordable access for patients.
While the inclusion of descheduling is seen by most in the legalization movement as a huge victory, there’s still a long way to go. The Senate would need to pass similar legislation and some protections may end up removed along the way in order to secure more moderate votes.
Is the MORE Act too much or not enough? Some advocates are wary of the federal government’s involvement in the cannabis industry. Shaleen Title is an outspoken attorney with deep ties to the movement for over 20 years. She was the top regulator in Massachusetts, serving as the commissioner of the Cannabis Control Commission from its inception until 2020. One of her concerns: “If local policies are confusing and chaotic and inequitable, passing a state legalization law doesn’t automatically fix the problem,” Title says. “We’ve seen this in California, Massachusetts, and other states. In the same way, if you add another layer of chaos by putting the federal government in charge when its only expertise has been in arresting and prosecuting marijuana users — not regulation — we could end up with worse problems than we have now.”
Advocates are also concerned that large multinational corporations will be the only ones able to navigate the cannabis industry’s increasingly complex market and stringent compliance requirements with the added layer of federal taxes and bureaucracy. Small cannabis businesses are already fighting for their piece of the pie.
The MORE Act isn’t the only pending legislation at the federal level, but it’s the only one that’s made it this far. We at High Rise Law will continue to keep an eye on these bills and will work with state and federal regulators and legislators to keep safe & sane cannabis policy at the forefront.