According to a poll conducted in April of this year by the Pew Research center, 9 out of 10 American adults support cannabis legalization. However, political action regarding this issue has been slow and whether or not current efforts will be successful remains to be seen. A significant factor in this turn of events has to do with the fact that the proposed Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) act of 2020 is complex and includes social equity measures that are considered unappealing to a large number of GOP members in Senate. Additionally, while support for legalized marijuana has long been much higher among democratic politicians, this stance is far from unanimous. Another obstacle for federal cannabis legalization is the fact that even if bipartisan support for it were obtained, President Joe Biden has suggested that he does not support these efforts. Therefore, despite strong support among Americans and the possibility of future bipartisan support for legalization, Biden may refuse to sign off on it.
As stated above, a majority of Americans support cannabis legalization. However, this stance falls along political party lines to some extent with 78 percent of Democrats and 62 percent of Republicans expressing support according to a recent poll conducted by Quinnipiac University. However, as the senate is equally split between Democrats and Republicans, the outlook for bipartisan support on the bill is dim. However, many Republicans might have issues with the changes specified in the MORE act rather than objecting to cannabis legalization on the whole. For example, one competitor to the act that has received more Republican support is the “Common Sense Cannabis Reform for Veterans, Small Businesses, and Medical Professionals Act.” This alternative is supported by Alaskan Representative Don Young and Ohio Rep. Dave Joyce, both Republicans. This bill would accomplish some of what the MORE act strives to achieve, such as legalizing interstate cannabis commerce, creating increased access for military veterans, and facilitating in-depth medical marijuana research. However, there are some vital differences between this option and the MORE act. This act, while providing the benefit of being more palatable to Republican representatives, does not include reparative social equity measures. As such, the reinvestment and increased opportunity meant to assist communities harmed by the war on drugs that the MORE act promises would not be implemented under the above alternative. One might argue that a bill that caters more to Republican legislative goals might be required to make any significant headway efforts toward federal legalization. This line of thought is particularly pertinent insofar as the proposed MORE act would require support from ten Republican representatives in addition to every Democrat in the Senate; a requirement which is effectively unachievable at present because several Senate Democrats have expressed that they do not support the proposed reforms. However, a lack of social equity measures in cannabis legalization legislature ignores the potent sociological effects of the war on drugs. While this argument is certainly persuasive on the level of business insofar as it would augment the flexibility of the cannabis industry, its philosophical facet is considerably lacking. The MORE act admittedly has flaws regarding the social justice angle of the bill, such as the fact that the automatic federal expungement of previous cannabis charges is not accompanied by a mandate that individual states do the same. This lack renders the effective expungement of charges far more complicated, as several states will not expunge convictions without a federal mandate requiring them to do so. However, the social equity measures included in the act stand as a first step in repairing the damage done by the war on drugs.
In addition to issues regarding the likelihood of bipartisan support, President Biden’s stance on the issue serves to complicate the possibility of the MORE act being passed. This concern becomes more potent in the wake of news that dozens of White House staffers have been fired or otherwise punished for admitting to past state-legal marijuana use on forms. Additionally, when asked by the San Francisco Chronicle about President Biden’s plans for drug policy reform, Vice President Kamala Harris stated that he is currently too busy with issues such as coronavirus relief and dismantling Trump-era policies to focus on the issue. One concept that Biden has proposed as a half-step in federal legalization is rescheduling cannabis as a Class II drug, which has sparked fears that said rescheduling could potentially destroy the current industry. Such fears come as a reaction to the fact that class II substances must be reviewed and approved by the FDA, which many supporters of cannabis policy reform believe will shut down the state-legal businesses that are currently in operation during the FDA approval process. However, such concerns are unfounded. The ability for state-legal marijuana businesses to continue operations during the process is due to a series of Obama-era memoranda regarding the legal status of legal cannabis. What allows states to maintain their respective cannabis industries has nothing to do with the scheduling of the plant. The ability for current businesses in the industry to operate is due to the Dole and Ogden memos, which allow heavily regulated cannabis sale and consumption to take place at the discretion of individual states. The potential rescheduling of marijuana is unlikely to impact the cannabis industry in its current form because its scheduling under the controlled substances act is unrelated to the legal guidelines that allow it to exist in the first place. However, rescheduling cannabis would not achieve the level of social and legal impact suggested by the MORE act and therefore is less appealing to some supporters of federal legalization.
While cannabis is becoming increasingly legal in the United States, there is still a long way to go before it is legal on a federal level, and measures are put in place to mitigate the effects wrought by the war on drugs. One significant obstacle to hopes of legalization lies in the fact that the MORE act that Senate is discussing now is considered unpalatable by many Republican, and some Democratic, politicians. Alternatives that include several aspects of the MORE act have been discussed. However, this is a less appealing option to many because alternative options make little to no concession for the fact that the war on drugs has damaged a variety of communities and therefore make no effort to mitigate these effects. Another issue is that President Biden does not consider drug policy reform an issue of urgency, and has said that he does not support federal adult-use legalization. Therefore, while hopes remain high that all Americans will soon be granted the right to get high, it is clear that there are still many difficulties to overcome before federal legalization becomes a reality.
Information about alternatives to the MORE act: https://reason.com/2021/05/28/do-democrats-realize-they-need-republican-support-to-legalize-marijuana/
Article about the insufficient Democratic support of the act: https://www.politico.com/news/2021/04/20/senate-democrats-weed-legalization-schumer-483747
Information about potential social equity flaws in the MORE act: https://www.cannabisdispensarymag.com/article/more-act-shortcomings-social-equity-cannabis-reform/
Article about President Joe Biden’s potential refusal to sign off on the act: https://www.forbes.com/sites/chrisroberts/2021/04/30/chuck-schumers-marijuana-legalization-plan-has-a-joe-biden-problem/?sh=d7f3b7742a9a
Article about White House staff being disciplined for past marijuana use: https://www.forbes.com/sites/chrisroberts/2021/03/19/biden-white-house-blasted-for-punishing-staffers-for-using-marijuana/?sh=589070b631a