The MORE Act of 2020

by Lacey Stewart

In the United States, more and more states have begun to legalize marijuana for not only medicinal use but for recreational use as well.[i] That being said, there has been pressure put upon Congress to take action federally.[ii] The House of Representatives recently passed legislation that would end the federal ban on marijuana. The bill is referred to as The Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act of 2020 or the MORE Act of 2020.[iii] This bill essentially decriminalizes marijuana on the federal level. Explicitly, it removes marijuana from the list of scheduled substances under the Controlled Substances Act, eliminates criminal penalties for an individual who manufactures, distributes, or possesses marijuana, and takes several other major steps towards criminal justice reform, social justice, and economic development. The bill gathered support from both sides and passed with a 228-164 vote in the House on December 4th, 2020. However, the bill still has to pass in the Senate, which seems to be not as likely as marijuana advocates had hoped. If the bill is not passed in the Senate by January 3, it must be reintroduced.[iv]

In the early part of the 20th century, alcohol was illegal during Prohibition, but marijuana was not.[v] Under the 1937 Marihuana [sic] Tax Act there was a two-part tax on the sale of marijuana, one that functioned like a sales tax and another which was more parallel to an occupational tax for licensed dealers.[vi] In 1969, Timothy Leary challenged his arrest for possession of marijuana under the Act in the case of Leary v. United States which made it to the Supreme Court. The Court overturned part of the Act as a violation of the Fifth Amendment.[vii] The result was a new law, the Controlled Substances Act, passed in 1970, which criminalized the possession or sale of marijuana. This act has remained intact to this day.[viii] The MORE Act would remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act, which would attack the core of its detrimental status in federal law, and it would provide essential justice provisions that could unravel decades of damage that has been caused by prohibition.[ix] House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler and Sen. Kamala Harris introduced this bill in response to a similar bill that was introduced earlier this year by Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey.[x] Harris is a co-sponsor of Booker’s Marijuana Justice Act of 2019, which also seeks to decriminalize marijuana and reinvest in communities affected by the war on drugs.[xi] This vote on the MORE Act in the House, marks the first time in 50 years that a chamber of Congress has ever revisited the classification of cannabis as a federally controlled and prohibited substance.[xii] It also marks the first time in 24 years that Congress has sought to close the widening chasm between state and federal marijuana policies.[xiii]

Not only would the MORE Act end the criminalization of cannabis at the federal level, but it would also be retroactive. Cannabis arrests, charges, and convictions would automatically be nulled at no cost to the individual.[xiv] While this is would be an improvement, states should continue to decriminalize cannabis as well. Although it is still prohibited by federal law, forty-four states and the District of Columbia currently have enacted laws legalizing marijuana[xv] for either medical or recreational use. Research has shown that most Americans support the idea of federally legalizing marijuana. According to a 2019 Pew poll, 91% support making medical marijuana legal, and 67% of Americans think marijuana should be legal in its entirety.[xvi]


Along with these landmark changes this bill could cause for our country, there are some economic considerations as well. Currently, taxpayers and the government endure the burden of enforcing cannabis prohibition laws, which costs taxpayers approximately $3.6 billion a year.[xvii] The federal government spends approximately $33 billion a year on drug control, while state and local governments spend nearly the same on criminal justice expenses related to drug crimes.[xviii] According to the National Drug Intelligence Service, the war on drugs costs the United States almost $200 billion a year in indirect costs.[xix] Current drug laws target users, suppliers, and dealers. In 2018, there were 1.65 million arrests for drug violations in the U.S. Of those related to marijuana, more than nine-in-ten arrests were for possessing marijuana (92%), rather than selling or manufacturing (8%).[xx] In 2012, it was estimated that the legalization of marijuana could take $10 billion away from the cartels and dealers.[xxi] A 2018 presentation before the Joint Economic Committee in Congress reported that the marijuana economy totaled more than $8 billion in sales in 2017, with sales estimated to reach $11 billion in 2018 and $23 billion by 2022.[xxii] Thus, showing the economic advantages that the legalization of marijuana federally could bring America.


In conclusion, this bill would impose a 5% tax on the retail sales of cannabis, which could ultimately stimulate the American economy. The MORE Act would create the Office of Cannabis Justice to oversee the social equity provisions in the law. This bill would also ensure that the federal government could not discriminate against people because of their cannabis use, including earned benefits or immigrants that are at risk of deportation.[xxiii] Finally, the impact of the MORE Act would open the door to cannabis research, better banking and tax laws, and it would help fuel economic growth in the United States. As said before, any bill not signed into law by the time Congress adjourns on January 3, will have to be reintroduced. This is likely to be the fate of the MORE Act and any other prominent cannabis-centric legislation. Passage of the bill is unlikely to move swiftly when it hits the current Senate.[xxiv] However, marijuana advocates have hope for the future of cannabis legislation and reform with the outcome of the 2020 election. In the end, the bill’s passage could ultimately reverse the current cannabis policy gap that exists between states and the federal government.

[i] Wallace, Alicia. “Four More States Just Legalized Recreational Weed. Here’s How Long You’ll Have to Wait to Buy It.” CNN, Cable News Network, 4 Dec. 2020.

[ii] Southard, Lukas. “Could the Success of Ballot Measures to Legalize Marijuana Add Pressure for Federal Legalization?” Marketplace, Minnesota Public Radio, 17 Nov. 2020.

[iii] “Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act of 2020” or the “MORE Act of 2020”. (H.R. 3884)

[iv] Wallace, Alicia. “Cannabis Got a Big Win in Congress, but Legal Weed Isn’t around the Corner.” CNN, Cable News Network, 4 Dec. 2020.

[v] Erb, Kelly Phillips. “House Passes Bill To Decriminalize Marijuana For Federal Purposes.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 6 Dec. 2020.

[vi] Marihuana Tax Act (26 U.S.C.S. §§ 4751-4753)

[vii] Leary v. United States, 395 U.S. 6 (1969)

[viii] The Controlled Substances Act (21 U.S.C. § 812)

[ix] Project, Marijuana Policy. “The MORE Act.” MPP

[x] Buck, Rebecca. “Cory Booker to Re-Introduce Marijuana Legalization Bill, Highlighting Issue’s Importance for 2020 Democrats.” CNN, Cable News Network, 28 Feb. 2019

[xi] Wright, Jasmine, and Kyung Lah. “Kamala Harris and Jerry Nadler Team on Plan to Decriminalize Pot, Expunge Convictions.” CNN, Cable News Network, 23 July 2019

[xii] Jacoby, Sarah. “The House of Representatives Just Voted to Approve the MORE Act.” SELF, 4 Dec. 2020.

[xiii] Id.

[xiv] Project, Marijuana Policy. “The MORE Act.” MPP

[xv] “Map of Marijuana Legality by State.” DISA Global Solutions, 10 Nov. 2020.

[xvi] Daniller, Andrew. “Two-Thirds of Americans Support Marijuana Legalization.” Pew Research Center, Pew Research Center, 30 May 2020.

[xvii] “Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act of 2020” or the “MORE Act of 2020”. (H.R. 3884)

[xviii] Erb, Kelly Phillips. “House Passes Bill to Decriminalize Marijuana For Federal Purposes.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 6 Dec. 2020.

[xix] Piaggio, Alvaro, and Prachi Vidwans. “The Cost and Consequences of the War on Drugs.” Human Rights Foundation, Human Rights Foundation Center for Law and Democracy, 7 Aug. 2019.

[xx] Gramlich, John. “Four-in-Ten U.S. Drug Arrests in 2018 Were for Marijuana Offenses – Mostly Possession.” Pew Research Center, Pew Research Center, 31 May 2020.

[xxi] Will, George F. “Should the U.S. Legalize Hard Drugs?” The Washington Post, WP Company, 11 Apr. 2012.

[xxii] Heinrich, Martin. “The National Cannabis Economy.” Joint Economic Committee Democrats, Dec. 2018.

[xxiii] Jaeger, Kyle. “Key House Committee Sends Marijuana Legalization Bill To Floor For Vote.” Marijuana Moment, 2 Dec. 2020.

[xxiv] Wallace, Alicia. “Cannabis Got a Big Win in Congress, but Legal Weed Isn’t around the Corner.” CNN, Cable News Network, 4 Dec. 2020.