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How Federal Cannabis Legalization Affects Your State?

The MORE Act has –finally- been set for vote in the following days, after initially been set for September but pushed back due to COVID-19.

The MORE Act, seeks to decriminalize marijuana at a federal level, expunge the records of people with prior marijuana convictions, and impose a federal five percent tax on cannabis sales, revenue that would be reinvested in communities impacted by the “drug war”. This act would allow the states to set their cannabis regulation policies. If you want to know more about the highlights of the MORE act, you can check out our previous article on it.

While it’s possible that the MORE Act will get caught up in the senate, there are definitely a lot of benefits that the cannabis legalization movement can gain from this vote. The most important benefit being that the general public starts talking about it, exposing the conversation to a wider audience.

But how would the federal legalization of cannabis through the MORE act affect your state?


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Implications of the MORE Act for state laws


The passing of the MORE Act will have repercutions for all States, but their is still details to take into consideration. Recently, the Congressional Research Service (CRS) described various possible complications resulting from the ongoing federal prohibition as more states opt to legalize cannabis for medical or recreational purposes. The reason being that, even though the MORE Act would decriminalize marijuana at the federal level, this would not directly alter the status of cannabis under state law.

Many states currently ban the use of marijuana for both medical and recreational purposes; others, like Mississippi and Georgia, allow the use of cannabis products for medical purposes while banning recreational use. The MORE Act would not alter those state legal regimes; nor would it affect prior state law criminal convictions for cannabis-related offenses.

(…) if the MORE Act became law, it could create a new divide between federal and state law—essentially the reverse of the current marijuana policy gap, since federal marijuana law would become less strict than some state laws. The MORE Act could also highlight the inconsistency between marijuana laws in different U.S. jurisdictions by repealing the uniform federal prohibition and leaving in place a patchwork of varying state laws.” – Congressional Research Service (CRS)

In this sense, Congress lacks the constitutional authority to alter state criminal law, although Congress could circumvent state law through Commerce Clause legislation (as it did in the 2018 farm bill, regarding interstate transportation of hemp). They could also encourage states to change their laws through the use of the spending power.

So, even though the MORE Act does not create a federal regulatory structure for cannabis, and that it cannot force states to change their laws, it includes provisions that incentivize the of adoption certain local reform policies.

These provisions can be positive, like federal funding for states that aid expunging prior cannabis convictions, or negative, like using the spending power to encourage states to regulate marijuana more stringently.

So, in states that only allow the use of medical cannabis, this could help push the legalization of recreational cannabis, while in states in which both medical and recreational cannabis are forbidden, this would be a step towards change.


How Federal Cannabis Legalization Affects Your State

What’s next after the vote on The MORE Act?


The MORE act is expected to pass in the Democratic-controlled chamber. However, it remains highly unlikely that the Senate will follow suit, as Majority Leader Mitch McConnell stands firmly against marijuana reform.

Nevertheless, this vote could send a message to the Biden administration. As the MORE Act has bipartisan support, it will be interesting to see if Biden’s former approach –championing punitive anti-drug legislation as a senator- changes. Although there’s some skepticism about his willingness to follow on his campaign promises to achieve reforms he has endorsed, such as decriminalizing possession and expunging records. A good sign of a change of approach is that the president-elect has conceded that his work on anti-drug legislation during his time in Congress was a mistake.

As we said earlier, with the current senate, it’s unlikely that the MORE Act will pass. But still if it were to pass, it wouldn’t immediately affect the status of the state laws. Even so, it would definitely be a huge step in the right direction to federal legalization.

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