Not All Cannabis Reform is a Good Thing

These days, everyone is throwing a hat into the ring of cannabis reform. Many ideas are floating around; some of them are not so hot. Last week’s federal legislative activity is a good example of this. Two things happened on the same day: the Senate unanimously passed the CMRE Act (Cannabidiol and Marihuana Research Expansion Act), and House leadership scheduled the MORE Act (Marijuana Opportunity and Expungement Act) for a floor vote next week. A lot of lazy reportage followed on this legislative activity, heralding federal cannabis reform.

Not all cannabis reform is a good thing. Some ideas are great; some are terrible; and some fall in between. The MORE Act falls into that final category. The MORE Act would remove marijuana from the federal Controlled Substances Act, along with a host of related activity. It first passed in late 2020; I gave a primer here. In that post, I also explained what the MORE Act does NOT do. It doesn’t preempt prohibitionist state laws; it doesn’t address the dysfunctional Food Drug & Cosmetic Act issues around cannabis comestible products; it doesn’t automatically expunge non-violent marijuana convictions; etc. The perfect can be the enemy of the good, of course, and I still think passage of a cleaned up MORE Act could be better than the status quo. But that bill needs some work.

The CMRE Act, by contrast, is an irredeemable mess. Shane Pennington explains why in the excellent “On Drugs” Substack he hosts with Matthew Zorn. (If you aren’t an On Drugs subscriber, you’re missing out on some very good stuff.) Shane explains, in a nutshell, that the CMRE Act contains a nonsensical and counterproductive definition of “cannabinoids”; and that, contrary to its stated purpose, it would actually make marijuana research harder. This is because non-economic barriers to cannabis research have been gutted already. What scientists really need from Congress is funding, not more legislation.

I appreciate that Congress continues to look at cannabis prohibition and related issues, especially given the Executive Branch failure of Biden and Harris to follow through with their campaign promises. It will be interesting to see if the CMRE Act gets any traction in the House, and vice versa for the MORE Act in the Senate. The CMRE Act seems to have better odds, if only because it originated in the upper chamber and addresses narrower subject matter. Also, the Senate has been unwilling or unable to entertain the MORE Act to date— similar to the SAFE Banking Act, which has now passed a half dozen times in the House.

Cannabis reform can be confusing once you get past the fundamental truths that: 1) the War on Drugs has failed and 2) the War on Drugs has disproportionately affected minority groups. There are so many options moving forward from there—including how to begin. In the big picture, there are those who would approach things piecemeal, with discrete legislation on issues such as banking or cannabis research; and those who would approach things holistically, as through the MORE Act or other omnibus efforts.

I hope to see the MORE Act pass to start. Then, we go from there. Whatever happens will ultimately need some tuning, similar to what is happening now with hemp. But getting at the root of cannabis prohibition is better than hacking at tendrils and shoots. That’s especially true when we’re talking about bills like the CMRE Act.