Marathon or Sprint – Two Competing Bills Fight for Cannabis Legalization in Congress

According to recent statistics, approximately 66-67% of Americans favor legalizing/decriminalizing cannabis in the United States. The question surrounding cannabis legalization has shifted from “when” to “how” it should be implemented. Two bills, the SAFE Banking Act of 2019 (H.R.1595) and the MORE Act of 2019 (S.2227) are gaining ground in Congress and are set to be voted on soon. While one focuses on one specific aspect of the cannabis industry (banking), the other proposes sweeping reforms by removing cannabis from the Schedule I list as well as expunging cannabis-related offenses from criminal records.

The SAFE Banking Act of 2019

The SAFE Banking Act of 2019 was introduced in the House of Representatives in March of this year and has already passed through the House Finance Committee. Its goal is simple: to remove barriers preventing financial institutions from serving the cannabis industry. The bill promises banks and other institutions a federal “hands off” approach to banking and the cannabis industry. While it’s a step in the right direction, it does not address cannabis legalization itself or any social justice issues that surround the cannabis industry.

The MORE Act of 2019

The MORE Act of 2019 swings for the fences by calling for the federal descheduling of cannabis as well as expungement of cannabis-related offenses from criminal records. It also calls for a 5% sales tax on cannabis products to establish an Opportunity Trust Fund that would create grants, loans, and other programs for “socially and economically-disadvantaged communities” most heavily impacted by the war on drugs. Introduced by Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA), it’s a far cry from her previous stance on cannabis while San Francisco’s District Attorney, then CA Attorney General. Now, as Senator and presidential candidate, she seeks to undo the damage she caused while in those positions and shed the “Kamala Harris is a cop” image.

Marathon vs Sprint

Civil rights groups have called on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) to delay voting on the SAFE Banking Act of 2019, which could happen by the end of this month. Drug Policy Alliance, Center for American Progress, the ACLU, and Human Rights Watch are among the social justice organizations who sent a letter seeking the delay until a more comprehensive cannabis bill that includes social justice reforms reaches the House floor.

“We are concerned that if the House approves this bill, it will undermine broader and more inclusive efforts to reform our country’s marijuana laws,” the letter stated. It accuses Congress of not doing enough to address the injustices caused by the war on drugs. “The banking bill does not address marijuana reform holistically. Instead, it narrowly addresses the issues of banking and improved access to financial services, measures that would benefit the marijuana industry, not communities who have felt the brunt of prohibition.”

Although both bills have bipartisan support, it all comes down to how cannabis will be legalized in the United States. The SAFE Banking Act of 2019 addresses one aspect of the cannabis industry, while the MORE Act of 2019 calls for federal legalization and decriminalization in one fell swoop. This has caused a slight rift in the cannabis community. While some believe we should decriminalize and legalize now, others see it as a slow process that will take time. The cannabis industry needs to seal that rift in order to put its considerable weight and influence behind bills that will ultimately lead to federal legalization.

We’re all moving toward the same destination; we just can’t agree on how to get there.

How do you feel about these two bills? Do you believe either of them will get us closer to legalization? Do you have other ideas entirely? We'd love to hear from you! Comment below!

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