House Judiciary Committee Approves Marijuana Decriminalization Bill, But Significant Hurdles Remain

Locke Lord LLP

The “Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act of 2019” or “MORE Act” passed the House Judiciary Committee with a 24-10 vote on November 20, 2019. As we wrote about in more detail here and discussed on our podcast here, the MORE Act is a marijuana decriminalization bill that would, among other things, remove marijuana from Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act, allow states to set their own policy for marijuana legalization, implement a federal tax on marijuana products sold in states where such sales are legal, and seek to ensure that those impacted by the war on drugs have an opportunity to be a part of the cannabis industry. Notably, one of the bill’s sponsors is Representative Jerry Nadler (D-NY), who is the Chair of the House Judiciary Committee.

The passage has been widely lauded by legalization proponents, with the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws calling it the “biggest marijuana news of the year.” While we recognize this is a significant step, it’s important to keep in mind that substantial hurdles remain. We believe the chances of federal legalization (or even decriminalization) remain dim until at least 2021. As an initial matter, the MORE Act is not a lock to pass the Democratic-led House, as there are divides in the Democratic ranks. For example, some Democrats believe more-targeted legislation like the SAFE Banking Act should take priority. Even if it does pass out of the House, however, it appears unlikely to pass the Republican-controlled Senate, to the extent Majority Leader Mitch McConnell even allows it to go to a vote.

To be clear, we are excited that the MORE Act passed the House Judiciary Committee, but we are just not as optimistic about its chances of being signed into law as has been suggested on some news reports we’ve seen. We will continue to follow the MORE Act, as well as other federal legalization efforts and important cannabis industry developments, on our blog.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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