A toxic political landscape and “concern-mongers” caused the U.S. House to delay a historic cannabis legalization vote that was slated for next week, according to advocates and experts.
In a blow to the reform movement, the MORE Act wasn’t included in the weekly floor schedule posted by the office of House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer on Thursday. That’s after Hoyer had indicated earlier this month that the House would vote on the wide-ranging bill the week of Sept. 21, stirring excitement within the American cannabis community.
The Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act would remove cannabis from the federal Controlled Substances Act, expunge weed convictions and set up a fund for communities hit hardest by the war on drugs.
Hoyer said in a statement that the House would eventually pass the bill this year, but likely not until after the U.S. federal election on Nov. 3.
“Right now, the House is focused relentlessly on securing agreement to stave off a damaging government shutdown and continuing to do its job addressing the Covid-19 pandemic,” Hoyer said. “Later this autumn, the House will pass the MORE Act with strong support as yet another crucial step toward making our justice system fair for all Americans.”
Cowen cannabis analyst Vivien Azer said the delay was a result of the Republican-led Senate attacking House Democrats for focusing on cannabis while the country grapples with a reeling economy amid the pandemic.
Politco reported that moderate Democrats were furious the House would vote on weed before taking up a Covid-19 economic bill, though progressives called it a social justice imperative.
Meanwhile, the Marijuana Policy Project noted polls showing 66 per cent of Americans support legalization — and with several states voting on legalization ballots soon, the pressure on Congress to take action will continue to grow.
According to a recent national poll conducted by Data for Progress, 62 per cent of likely voters, including 60 per cent of Republicans, support the MORE Act when asked about its specific provisions.
In a statement Thursday, advocacy group NORML called out lawmakers for delaying justice, vowing to keep the fight alive for the MORE Act. The group suspects “prohibitionists and concern-mongers” helped push the delay, despite the bill’s growing public support.
This is a delay of justice; it is as simple as that. But rest assured, we will not falter in our commitment to keep fighting. pic.twitter.com/BeVpWkgbbx
— NORML (@NORML) September 18, 2020
A coalition of 220 civil rights groups also blasted Congress for delaying the bill, citing the imminent need for reform to address racial disparities in the U.S.
“It is long overdue that Congress address draconian federal marijuana laws through measures like the MORE Act,” the groups said in a statement. “Congress must pass this substantive racial justice bill to help communities of color demanding justice, and we look forward to continuing to work with lawmakers to achieve that goal.”
Advocates at the Marijuana Policy Project don’t expect real police reform in the U.S. until cannabis is legalized. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, 600,000 U.S. citizens are arrested each year for low-level cannabis offenses — a disproportionate number are Black.
MPP expects four states — New Jersey, South Dakota, Arizona and Montana — will the vote in favour of recreational ballots in November. Mississippi is expected to vote green on a medical cannabis ballot, the last state to do so after Nebraska’s top court stripped the state’s medical vote last week.
On Thursday, MPP praised Vermont House lawmakers for advancing a state bill that legalizes, regulates and taxes cannabis sales. While the state passed a recreational bill through its legislature in early 2018, lawmakers have delayed making real progress on regulating an adult-use market until this week.
Top image of United States Capitol by Phil Roeder via Flickr