On Friday, May 28, 2021, the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act was reintroduced in the U.S. congress. Back in December 2020, it passed the House of Representatives but didn’t advance in the Senate. This year, with a new senate majority leader, the cannabis industry is more hopeful and numerous organizations and advocacy groups are pushing for another vote by the end of June. Will cannabis become legal in the U.S. this month?
Cannabis laws are constantly changing. Although legalization is the ultimate goal, there are many legislative steps we must take in order to get there. To learn more about the MORE act and other regulations, make sure to subscribe to the CBD Flowers Weekly Newsletter – your source for all the most up-to-date cannabis information, as well as access to exclusive deals on flowers and other products.
What is The MORE Act?
One of the most important things to remember with the MORE Act is that it will NOT legalize cannabis. If passed, H.B. 3884 would decriminalize and deschedule cannabis from its current position as a schedule 1 narcotic. For a drug to be listed under schedule 1 of the controlled substances act, it needs to meet the following criteria: no currently accepted medical uses and a high potential for abuse.
In case you were wondering how absolutely asinine the drug schedules are, consider the fact that cannabis and magic mushrooms are categorized as schedule 1, which is reserved for the most dangerous drugs, whereas cocaine and methamphetamine are listed as schedule 2. Other drugs like codeine, ketamine, and steroids are schedule 3. So, since we know that cannabis has many therapeutic uses, and it’s not dangerous nor is it addictive, removing it from the list of schedule 1 narcotics is a very welcomed change.
Also, take note that decriminalization is very different from full legalization, but I’ll cover more on that later. For now, let’s take a look at the most important points of the bill. First and foremost, the bill intends to address various social justice issues that have been plaguing the cannabis industry for decades. For example, the MORE act would establish a process to expunge convictions and conduct sentencing review hearings related to federal cannabis offenses.
People with felony cannabis convictions will no longer be barred from obtaining business permits. The Small Business Administration would establish the Cannabis Restorative Opportunity Program, which would provide any necessary aid to businesses owned and operated by “socially and economically disadvantaged individuals.” Additionally, this bill would prevent the federal government from denying benefits and social services to cannabis users, as has been the case in the past.
The MORE Act would also impose a 5% tax on all cannabis products, and the revenue would be deposited into a trust fund that would support various programs and services for individuals and businesses that have been most impacted by the war on the drugs. According to a 2020 report by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), people of color are three times more likely to be arrested and prosecuted for cannabis possession than white people. The ACLU estimates that taxpayers pay approximately $3.6 billion each year on the enforcement of cannabis prohibition laws.
“The whole intention and vision behind this bill is that it would repair past harms of drug prohibition,” said Maritza Perez, national affairs director at the Drug Policy Alliance, a nonprofit working to reform drug laws. “We’re hoping that another successful House vote would continue to pile on momentum.”
Decriminalization vs Legalization
The terms “decriminalization” and “legalization” are often used interchangeably, but they are quite different. The ultimate goal is full legalization of cannabis, or the act of removing most legal prohibitions against it (age restrictions would still apply, like with tobacco and alcohol sales). If cannabis is completely legalized, individuals found selling or possessing it for personal use will not be subject to criminal OR civil penalties.
On the other hand, cannabis decriminalization would mean that it is still federally illegal, but criminal penalties would not be enforced. Instead, users would face civil penalties such as fines and forced rehabilitation. Records may be kept in a local tribunal, but they will not affect employment, housing, or travel opportunities. If an individual is court-ordered into a rehab program, and they chose not to attend, it’s possible that criminal penalties would be imposed at that point.
Decriminalization is a relatively pointless step in between prohibition and legalization that allows for too much “interpretation” of the law. For example, in a decriminalized state, a police officer can take your cannabis, fine you, and send you to court where your case will end up getting thrown out if it meets the criteria of a legal decriminalized amount. So, you’re out the money you spent on flower that remains confiscated, the city doesn’t get any additional money from you because the case is tossed out in court, and the entire ordeal is a mega waste of time for everyone involved.
The good thing about decriminalization measures, aside from the obvious benefit of not being charged with a criminal offence, is that it indicates the tides are turning. Not only are public views on cannabis becoming more open and progressive, but politicians and lawmakers are finally starting to support policies that reflect these changes.
Marijuana/marihuana vs Cannabis
One more thing that I did not mention above is that the MORE ACT will change up the lingo we’re currently familiar with. Statutory references to marijuana and marihuana would be officially replaced with the word “cannabis”. To some, this may seem pointless (and ironic considering the name of the bill still uses the word “marijuana”), but it is a significant change.
Now remember, the word for the entire plant and all of its parts is Cannabis. For legal purposes, marijuana is used to describe cannabis with more than 0.3% THC and hemp is used to describe cannabis with less than 0.3% THC. From this point, Cannabis can be broken down into three additional subtypes: Cannabis sativa, Cannabis indica, and Cannabis ruderalis. These subtypes can apply to both marijuana and hemp. This vocabulary is the most common way to differentiate between cannabis types at the regulatory cutoff point. However, the word itself, “marijuana“ (or “marihuana” as the government likes to call it), is a loaded one historically.
Before 1910, the word “marijuana: did not exist in American culture. Instead, “Cannabis” was used when discussing the plant as a medicinal remedy. Back then, Bristol-Meyer’s Squib, Eli Lilly, and other current pharmaceutical giants used to include cannabis extracts, and sometimes even whole plant matter, in their medicine formulations. After 1910, the United States started getting an influx of legal immigrants, mostly from Mexico, who were seeking refuge post-war. It was during that time that the idea of smoking cannabis recreationally was becoming ingrained within the American mainstream culture. Up until then, it was used mostly therapeutically.
Fast forward to the 1930s, when Harry Anslinger, the first commissioner of the newly established Federal Bureau of Narcotics, launched his war against “marijuana”. Although “cannabis” has been part of United States history since the very beginning, “marijuana” was viewed as this new dangerous substance that lurked in the shadows of America’s counterculture. If there was one thing Anslinger was good at, it was without a doubt, media manipulation. During his numerous public appearances, some of which were to promote his trademark film Reefer Madness, Anslinger made sure to use the term “marijuana”, to keep people from making that connection with medicinal cannabis.
To sum it up, the word itself is not racist, it’s actually Spanish. But the word “marijuana” was adopted by a racist individual who used it alongside targeted fear mongering and prejudice against Hispanic immigrants, as the central focus of his campaign against the Cannabis plant. Today, the industry is taking the word back, using it in a professional manner that’s more rooted in science, not politics. However, until now, all government documents that discussed cannabis in any form have been referring to it as “marihuana”, which incorrect and incredibly outdated.
Taxation of Illegal Goods in the United States
Another confusing point for many people is probably the 5% tax. If a product is decriminalized, it’s still technically illegal, and how can you tax an illegal product? While that may sound like a catch 22, in the United States it is actually very common to tax illegal goods, services, and other enterprises.
Taxation of illegal income in the United States arises from the provisions of the Internal Revenue Code (IRC), enacted by the U.S. Congress mainly for the purpose of taxing net income. As such, all taxable income will be subject to the same Federal income tax rules, regardless of whether the income was obtained legally or illegally. So basically, the government cares less about what you’re doing if you make sure to give them a cut of the money you’re making.
One interesting example of this would be drug tax stamps. Say you go out and buy some meth from your local dealer, your next move would likely be to go home and consume it, but according to the government, you should first pay taxes on your illegal purchase. In case you’re wondering how, it’s quite simple. All you need to do is go to your state’s Department of Revenue website and purchase your prepaid drug tax stamps (the government says it’s completely anonymous but I’m honestly not sure if I trust that), which serve as proof of your tax payment.
Unsurprisingly, it’s not very common for people to actually pay these taxes voluntarily. As of now, only 17 states are still imposing the stamps. However, in those states, if you get arrested for drug possession, you will likely face harsher civil or criminal penalties for “tax evasion”, and you might get stuck paying double what you would have paid if you did it up front.
This probably sounds like a way for the greedy government to get extra money, and it is. But on the flipside, people paying taxes on their ill-gotten gains are also eligible to claim deductions for any “ordinary and necessary expenses paid or incurred during the taxable year in carrying on a trade or business,” as stated in section 162(a) of the Securities Act of 1933. Yeah, our government is pretty strange.
Honestly, it seems unlikely that the MORE Act will pass as it is currently written. It’s very likely that Senate republicans may use the filibuster to block this bill. Many conservatives have expressed concern over some of the language in this bill, stating that it is not as economically-oriented as they would like it to be, and that it lacks provisions for veteran business owners. Although it seems largely symbolic, the MORE act is still being hailed as positive step for cannabis reform.
“Since I introduced the MORE Act last Congress, numerous states across the nation, including my home state of New York, have moved to legalize marijuana,” said House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y. “Our federal laws must keep up with this pace.”
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