This article was updated on December 6, 2020
The Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act, otherwise known as the MORE Act, is federal legislation that seeks to decriminalize marijuana. Currently, possession of marijuana is a federal offense and can be prosecuted as such.
MORE Act Passes Through House of Representatives
The MORE Act, which was first introduced in July of 2019, recently passed through the House of Representatives on Friday, December 4. The Act passed by a margin of 228-164 after approximately one hour of debate. Why is this so monumental? Well, this is the first vote of any kind to decriminalize marijuana at the Federal level.
What Happens Next?
Since the MORE Act passed through the House, the next step is the Senate. The Act would need to both pass through the Senate and be signed by the President before becoming law. However, the likelihood that the Act passes through the Senate is low.
This is because Senate party leader Mitch McConnell is on record against marijuana legalization laws. He could simply sit on the bill so it does not go to a vote. If the bill isn’t voted on by the current legislation in 2020, it will have to go through the entire process again in 2021, starting at the House of Representatives.
Is Marijuana Legal if the MORE Act is Signed by the President?
No, marijuana will not be legal even if the MORE Act passes through the Senate and is signed by the President. The bill has two main parts:
- It decriminalizes marijuana at the Federal level, meaning it will allow the States to determine whether or not marijuana is legal in their specific state
- An automatic expungement of any federal marijuana conviction
While the Act includes information related to taxes and other areas, these are the two key components.
So, if the Act is passed, this does not change the legality of marijuana at the State level. For readers in Nebraska, this means the Act will not impact the legality of medical or recreational marijuana here.
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How Can States Already Legalize Marijuana?
Although possession of marijuana is a federal offense, states are rapidly legalizing the substance for both medical and recreational use. States can do this thanks to two Obama-era memos that give outlines to the states for legalizing medicinal and recreational marijuana. These memos essentially permit states to legalize marijuana under certain conditions, such as making it illegal for minors to possess it.
Proponents against legalizing marijuana where it is illegal, like here in Nebraska, argue that we should not legalize it because it is already illegal on the federal level. Although true, the federal government allows states to largely govern themselves, which is why states like Colorado can legalize and regulate marijuana on their own terms.
What Does the MORE Act Do?
To really understand what the MORE Act does, it is important to first understand what it does not do. The MORE Act does not legalize marijuana throughout the country. Rather, it decriminalizes marijuana on the federal level. If passed, the MORE Act would put marijuana on a similar legal stance as alcohol, where states can decide whether it should be legal and how much of it should be allowed.
How Does the Government Benefit?
States that legalize marijuana can tax the product as they please. The MORE Act allows the federal government to take its piece of the pie and impose a 5% tax on marijuana products. This tax will ideally be used to improve communities impacted by the War on Drugs among other things, like improving small businesses to help people of lower-income get started in the industry.
What Happens to People Who Have Already Been Arrested for Marijuana?
For people caught with marijuana, the penalties can be quite severe. Some states are not afraid to prosecute someone with felony charges even for a first offense. The prosecution laws vary from state to state, but the states have the right to prosecute with felony charges, and those stay with a person for the rest of their life. The MORE Act expunges those with felony convictions. This means it not only pardons the felony, but it completely erases it from the permanent record. So, if an employer is doing a background check on someone with a felony due to possession of marijuana, that record would not show up if this act was passed.
What is the Status of the MORE Act?
After the Act passed through the House in December of 2020, the next step is passing through the Senate, where the same process that took place in the House of Representatives all over again. If the Senate approves the bill, it will go to the President’s desk for signing. If the President signs the bill, the MORE Act will become law and marijuana legislation in the US will drastically change.
For now, marijuana is still a federal crime and a state crime in many states, including Nebraska. If you are facing criminal charges related to marijuana possession or distribution, call an experienced marijuana lawyer at Berry Law today.