On Wednesday, November 20th, the United States House Judiciary Committee passed House Bill 3884: The Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment, and Expungement (MORE) Act, and signaled a major shift in cannabis policy.
The States have led the way for cannabis legislation reform, and , up until now, the federal government has shown no real sign of easing up on cannabis. Keeping cannabis on par with heroin, and preventing cannabis related businesses from funding and banking services.
The MORE Act is, in my opinion, an excellent start to reforming our drug policy, and repairing some of the damage done by the ‘War on Drugs’.
Cannabis at the Federal Level
For most of the last century, our Country has considered Cannabis a Schedule 1 drug. This is the Drug Enforcement Agency’s highest level of controlled substances that have addictive properties with no medical value.
Despite nearly 25 years of State level legalization efforts, the Federal government had shown no sign of changing it’s stance on marijuana. The Federal government’s ‘War on Drugs’ punishments and penalties have remained very harsh towards Cannabis, while States have worked towards easing law enforcement efforts, allowing for medical marijuanan, and, now, full on legalization.
House Bill 3884: The MORE Act
Essentially, the MORE act will remove Cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act. This will leave all decisions on Cannabis policy up to the States, with no interference from the Federal government.
Given that over 30 States already have medical marijuana programs, many have decriminalized possession of small amounts of cannabis, and 13 States have legalized fully; This makes official, the de facto position of the people.
It also provides funding and incentives for States that will expunge, or remove, minor possession convictions from peoples’ records. The stigma that a ‘drug’ conviction carries, has kept many people from employment. The hope is that clearing these people’s conviction, will help them get on with their lives.
The Bill also seeks to help Veterans get access to medical marijuana. It would allow the Veterans Administration(V.A.) the authority to recommend medical cannabis for a variety of ailments in States where medical marijuana is legal.
Furthermore, the MORE act would allow businesses and investors in the Cannabis Industry access to interstate banking and financial services. Banks and Financial Institutions have, so far, refused to lend, or even do business, with the cannabis industry. This is mainly due to the Federal status of cannabis. This could provide a flood of jobs when established companies are sudden allowed to conduct business across State lines.
There is also a sneaky section that contains a new tax on cannabis. This would impose a 5% federal tax on cannabis. While I understand the Federal government’s desire for the juicy tax money that cannabis sales can provide, I’m not sure this is the best amount/option. Too high of a tax burden on cannabis producers/sellers/buyers will make store bought, regulated cannabis too expensive. Thus driving demand back towards the ‘Legacy Markets’, aka, the black market.
Big Business in Cannabis
A change in the Federal status of Cannabis would also allow the “Big Boys” to enter the game. Huge international corporations have been waiting for this change in cannabis policy before they were ready to take the field.
Big Tobacco, Big Pharma, and Big Ag companies have stayed mainly on the sidelines of the cannabis industry, but, with Federally legal cannabis, expect them to jump into the fray. This could have positive and negative effects on both the cannabis industry and the end product.
The “Big Boys” are great at standardizing production processes and the final products. Every Oreo comes out essentially identical to the rest in appearance and taste. This expertise could be great for cannabis. Terpene profiles could be pinpointed and duplicated. Imagine weed that always has the same smell, same taste, and the same effect.
What the “Bigs” often get wrong is, losing quality in favor of QUANTITY. There could be an amazing strain that smelled great and was super potent, but was difficult to grow at scale or wasn’t a big producer. “Bigs” would, probably, disregard cultivars/strains like this in favor of something more ‘average’, but easy to grow. I think this will leave a nice niche market for good growers, extraction artists, and unique genetic profiles. A “Craft Cannabis” market could follow the success of the craft beer industry.
There will, however, be companies that are currently leaders, who will be absorbed or wiped out by the “Bigs” joining the game.
Overall, I think this is an amazing step towards better “drug” policy. The prohibition of the cannabis plant could really be at hand. States will control their own policy, and the Fed’s will mostly stay out of it. Veteran’s will have access to cannabis based medicines through the official channels. Cannabis Businesses will be able fund expansion, and cannabis start-ups will be able to raise the capital they need.
First, the MORE act will have to be scheduled, and then voted on by the House. The Bill has backing from a diverse group of supporters, from drug policy groups to civil rights activists. Hopefully, the bill will receive widespread support in both the House and the Senate, and be signed into law next year.
Maybe legal cannabis next year is a bit too optimistic, but, I prefer to be optimistic. We will keep you informed on all the latest legalization news and developments.