WASHINGTON—The Democrat-controlled U.S. House of Representatives voted 228 to 164 Friday to remove marijuana from the federal list of controlled substances, marking the first time either chamber of Congress has voted to ease restrictions on marijuana since a ban was imposed in 1970, the Washington Post reports. Although passage in the Senate appears unlikely, it’s a step toward lifting the barrier to nationwide sales of cannabis and providing a framework for its taxation.
The Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, sponsored by Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) who introduced it in July 2019, would regulate and tax cannabis production and create grant programs for people or communities affected by the federal crackdown on illegal drug use. It also would expunge some federal marijuana convictions dating back to 1971.
Fifteen states already allow use and sales of marijuana by adults for recreational purposes, and medical marijuana is legal in 36 states. If cannabis is legalized at the federal level, states still would decide how to regulate cannabis commerce within their borders.
The bill isn’t expected to get a friendly reception in the Republican-controlled Senate, however. Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris is the chief sponsor of the MORE Act in the Senate.
For convenience and other retailers who sell CBD products, legalizing marijuana at the federal level would eliminate the gray area that many have been operating in for years. It also could open the door for state regulators to allow marijuana sales in convenience stores.
It also would ease commerce for the multibillion dollar cannabis industry that faces a patchwork of state and local laws in the states that have legalized marijuana.
“It’s reached a critical tipping point where the basics of letting someone work and do their job consistent with state law and state licenses runs against the federal prohibitionist stance of Republicans,” according to Randal John Meyer, executive director of the Global Alliance for Cannabis Commerce, the Washington Post reports. “That tension can’t hold; it’s reaching past the breaking point.”
In December 2018, the Farm Bill’s passage legalized the sale and use of hemp-based CBD products, but not food and beverages containing the substance. Ingestible products are regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which FDA has sent numerous warning letters to manufacturers selling CBD products in ways that allegedly violate the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act. (Hemp seed-derived food ingredients don’t require FDA approval.)
U.S. consumer spending on legal cannabis is expected to grow by 25% in 2020 to exceed $18 billion, according to New Frontier Data. While cannabis flower remains the favored cannabis product over cannabis-infused products, researchers expect the demand for non-combustible products, including lotions and beverages, to increase over the next year. The research firm predicts sales of cannabis-infused products will grow to $3 billion this year.