US House Votes to Decriminalize Marijuana at Federal Level

2020 has been an exciting year, in large part for all the wrong reasons. The winter months of 2020 have brought yet another surprise, but this time, it’s a good one: The U.S. House of Representatives just passed a bill decriminalizing marijuana at the federal level. Despite the fact that 36 states allow medicinal marijuana and fifteen states (as well as the District of Columbia) have fully legalized the recreational use and possession of cannabis, federal law still treats marijuana as a Schedule I drug. A Schedule I drug is a substance “with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse,” alongside the likes of heroin. Advocates of cannabis legalization point to years of research contravening that classification. The House-passed Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act (MORE Act) promises to put federal law in line with the states and with an accurate scientific understanding of the benefits of legalized marijuana, and to “address the devastating injustices caused by the War on Drugs.” Whether the MORE Act will become law, however, is unclear. Read on to learn about the MORE Act and its chances of being signed into law, and call a dedicated California cannabis business attorney or criminal defense lawyer if you are facing marijuana-related issues in California.

What Does the MORE Act Do?

The MORE Act would remove marijuana from the federal Controlled Substances Act and eliminate all criminal penalties for individuals who manufacture, distribute, or possess marijuana. The law would also provide a pathway for convicted marijuana offenders to have their convictions expunged from their records. Defendants currently serving a marijuana-related sentence would have the right to petition for a sentence reduction. The law would also add a marijuana-related sales tax and provide for small business loans relating to marijuana enterprises.

Will the MORE Act Become Law?

The MORE Act was passed by the Democrat-led House of Representatives. Unfortunately, that is no guarantee that the bill will pass the Senate. Although decriminalizing cannabis has wide bipartisan support among voters, conservative congressmen have signaled thus far that they are opposed. The bill passed the House largely along party lines: 222 Democrats, five Republicans, and a Libertarian voted in support, while 158 Republicans and six Democrats voted against it.

Currently, the Senate is controlled by a Republican majority. Because the vote is likely to fall on party lines, and based on the statements of Republican senators thus far, there is a good chance the bill will be rejected by the Republican-controlled Senate. Even if the current bill is defeated, however, should Democrats take control of the Senate in the near future, marijuana decriminalization would likely come up again very soon. Democrats, in fact, have the chance to take away Republican control of the Senate in just a few weeks.

Two Senate seats are still up for grabs in this election cycle. Neither Senate seat from Georgia was resolved in the general election in November, so there is a runoff election currently underway. Early voting for the Georgia runoff election begins on December 14, and election day is January 5. If Democrats win both seats, there would be a 50-50 split in the Senate. On a straight party-line 50-50 vote, the Vice President would cast the deciding vote. Vice President-elect Kamala Harris co-sponsored a federal marijuana decriminalization bill in 2019 – strong evidence that she would vote in favor of such a bill. President-elect Biden has also indicated support for decriminalization at the federal level.

If Republicans retain one or both of the Georgia seats, then they will continue to control the Senate. If Democrats win both seats, marijuana decriminalization will suddenly become a much more realistic possibility. Whether marijuana is decriminalized federally in the next few months, or whether we must wait several more years, may depend on the results of the Georgia election.

Call a Knowledgeable California Cannabis Business Lawyer

If you are interested in setting up a marijuana business or are dealing with regulatory, tax, licensing, or other legal issues with your cannabis business in Los Angeles or Southern California, call McReynolds Vardanyan, LLP, in Glendale at 818-855-2115. Our California cannabis business lawyers will work with you to get your budding business off the ground efficiently, effectively, and legally.

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