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With MORE Act Vote Delayed, State Level Initiatives In Spotlight

September 22, 2020

The MORE Act will not receive a vote in the House of Representatives this week as originally planned. House leaders delayed the bill to focus on passing another round of pandemic relief, which has been frozen by deadlocked negotiations for weeks. Although Representatives Earl Blumenauer and Barbara Lee of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus continue to promise that the bill will be voted on this year, the delay practically ensures that it will not be heard until after the November election.

The MORE Act, or more fully, the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment, and Expungement Act, is a significant piece of legislation both for what it would do and what it represents. Were it to become law, the Act would remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act, which would eliminate the current conflict between state-level legalization and federal prohibition. Other policies in the bill include incentives for states to expunge past cannabis convictions and the creation of programs to repair the damage of the war on drugs. In more symbolic terms, it’s the first piece of legislation descheduling cannabis to make it out of committee since the passage of the Controlled Substances Act of 1970. Additionally, the bill boasts 113 cosponsors in the House, more than a quarter of its total membership. Advocates also hoped that a rousing showing might push Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden toward a stronger stance on the issue.

Pro-legalization group NORML acknowledged the setback, writing, “This is a delay of justice; it is as simple as that. This delay does not change the fact that voters in several states, including key electoral battleground states for both control of the Presidency and the Senate, will be passing similar state-level marijuana measures on Election Day.”

Of those state-level election initiatives, the most significant appears to be in New Jersey. Public Question 1, as it’s called, was referred to public consideration last December after the state legislature failed to come to terms on the specifics of legalization. The primary stumbling block last year was taxation rates—Governor Phil Murphy wanted to tax above 20%, but Senate President Stephen Sweeney refused to go above 12%. The ballot initiative would subject cannabis to the state sales tax of 6.625% only, with local government allowed to add another 2%.

Recreational legalization in the Garden State would add another 8.8 million people to the approximately 90 million Americans already living in legal states. Its position in the Northeast, with its proximity and borders with New York and Pennsylvania, could also be a catalyst for full legalization in two of the U.S.’s biggest potential markets. New Jersey is also the densest state in the Union and third ranked on median income, which could see it setting new retail sales records. The state enacted a medical program 10 years ago; recent polling among likely voters showed support for the initiative at 67%.

In Arizona, advocates are trying again for legalization after a narrow loss four years ago and have raised significant funding from cannabis companies operating as medical cannabis providers, including Harvest Health, Cresco Labs, and Curaleaf. Mississippi voters will consider a convoluted scheme to approve medical cannabis that polling in April indicated has a good chance to pass. Montana, which has had a medical program since 2004, will consider recreational use as well, while South Dakota will take the unprecedented step of considering both medical marijuana and recreational use on the same ballot.

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