Cannabis got a big win in Congress, but legal weed isn’t around the corner

Cannabis just had a victory in Congress. But the industry and its supporters may not want to get too excited just yet.

The US House of Representatives on Friday passed a bill to end the federal prohibition on cannabis. But the historic voteon the landmark legislation — which if put into law would be momentous for the emerging multibillion-dollar cannabis industry and broader social justice movements — ultimately is largely symbolic.
For now, the House is likely to be the last stop on the line for the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act of 2019 (MORE Act), which would effectively legalize cannabis by removing marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act and creating a shared federal-state control of cannabis programs — although it does not force states to legalize. The bill also would reduce barriers to research, solve current banking and tax woes, expunge some cannabis offenses and further diversify efforts in the industry.
Although public sentiment for cannabis legalization has grown, not all in Congress — notably Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell — feel the same.
“I would give it less than a snowball’s chance of passage in the Senate,” said drug policy expert John Hudak, the deputy director of the Center for Effective Public Management at the Brookings Institution think tank.
Any bill not signed into law by the time Congress adjourns on January 3 will have to be reintroduced, so that most likely will be the fate for the MORE Act or any other prominent cannabis-centric legislation, said Jodi Avergun, a former US Drug Enforcement Administration chief of staff who is now a partner at Cadwalader and chair of the law firm’s white collar defense and investigations group.
“In my view, more than anything, the House wanted to show the incoming Biden administration that it is serious about cannabis reform and that it expects the administration to advance the ball on legalization or descheduling,” Avergun told CNN Business. “Folks were disappointed that Biden’s transition documents did not reiterate the cannabis loosening pledges he made during the campaign. Maybe this is a subtle statement that the House did not forget what Biden had promised during the campaign.”
However, while industry advocates hailed the passage of the bill, not all were pleased with some last-minute revisions that they say watered down the criminal justice and social equity provisions of the bill, including narrowing where tax dollars can be appropriated and who would be eligible for records expungement, said Maritza Perez, director of the office of national affairs at the Drug Policy Alliance.
“While we recognize and celebrate the historic nature of today’s vote, we know we need to put in significant work in the next Congress to build a bill that fully aligns with our principles,” she said in a statement.

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