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Federal Cannabis Legalization: Will it Pass the U.S. Senate?

Federal Cannabis Legalization: Will it Pass the U.S. Senate?

Ed Knight

By Ed Knight

April 4, 2022

A bill that would end the federal prohibition on cannabis cleared the House of Representatives last week, but its prospects in the United States Senate are bleak. 

The legislation, known as the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, won approval in the Democratic-controlled House on Friday by a vote of 220-204. 

Along with descheduling cannabis on the federal level, the legislation would also establish a tax structure for the sale of cannabis products and would set up a framework through, which individuals previously convicted of pot-related offenses could have them expunged.

The Senate’s Stance on Cannabis Legalization

However, in the Senate, where Democrats also hold a majority, the bill could take a backseat to a different piece of cannabis reform legislation. 

Roll Call reports that Sen. Corey Booker, Democrat from New Jersey, said last week “that moving the House bill would be unlikely and senators are focusing on their own proposal.”

Booker alluded to drafted legislation last year that he co-sponsored with Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon that, per Roll Call, “contained a similar tax regime to what is imposed on alcohol and tobacco.” That bill would also “erase the records of nonviolent marijuana offenders and allow those currently serving time to petition a court for resentencing,” and use tax revenues from cannabis sales to “support a trust fund to reinvest in communities most affected by enforcement involving the drug.”

“Right now we’re looking at doing the one that we’ve been working on for a long time,” Booker said, as quoted by Roll Call.

Whether it’s the MORE Act or the bill floated by Booker and Wyden, it is unclear whether any legalization proposal would be able to clear the 60-vote threshold in the Senate. 

The House’s passage of the legislation on Friday represents the type of action that cannabis legalization advocates were clamoring for after Democrats were swept into power in the 2020 election. 

Looking Back and Planning Ahead

Last year, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, who backed the cannabis legalization bill drafted by Booker and Wyden, made it clear that the party was eager to end federal prohibition on pot, and said that Congress would act whether President Joe Biden was on board or not. 

“We will move forward,” Schumer told Politico at the time. “[Biden] said he’s studying the issue, so [I] obviously want to give him a little time to study it. I want to make my arguments to him, as many other advocates will. But at some point we’re going to move forward, period.”

Schumer highlighted the example set by the dozens of states that have legalized recreational cannabis and established their own regulated markets over the last decade.

“In 2018, I was the first member of the Democratic leadership to come out in support of ending the federal prohibition. I’m sure you ask, “Well what changed?” Well, my thinking evolved. When a few of the early states—Oregon and Colorado—wanted to legalize, all the opponents talked about the parade of horribles: Crime would go up. Drug use would go up. Everything bad would happen,” Schumer said in the interview. “The legalization of states worked out remarkably well. They were a great success. The parade of horribles never came about, and people got more freedom. And people in those states seem very happy.”

Biden has not been in lockstep with Schumer and other members of his party on this issue, with the president often saying he supports decriminalization of marijuana but not outright cannabis legalization.

On Friday, after the House passed the MORE Act, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said that Biden believes current “marijuana laws are not working.”

“We look forward to working with Congress to achieve our shared goals, and we’ll continue having discussions with them about this objective,” Psaki said.

Ed Knight

About The Author

Ed Knight

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