In recent weeks, one of the most thought-provoking pieces of legislation to enter the mainstream consciousness is the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement Act. Better known as the MORE Act of 2019, the lengthy title is apt, effectively summarizing the main thesis behind the proposal.
Rather than view the cannabis sativa plant as a soft narcotic and a gateway to harder drugs, the MORE Act defangs old notions of stigma and criminality. Instead, it asks the stoic, staid machinery of Washington, D.C. to enter the realm of the 21st century.
It is both groundbreaking and completely pointless, depending on your perspective.
For the glass-half-full folks, the MORE Act of 2019 is a gamechanger. Under the proposal, marijuana would be de-scheduled at the federal level. Currently, the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 (colloquially known as the 2018 Farm Bill) federally legalizes industrial hemp and hemp-derivatives. However, the cannabis plant itself remains a Schedule I drug.
One of the historical reasons for the classification is that natural cannabis typically has an ample amount of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the cannabinoid (organic compound) that imposes a negative psychoactive impact, or a “high.” The Farm Bill facilitates the purchase of non-THC hemp derivatives, specifically defined as containing no more than 0.3% THC content.
The MORE Act of 2019 would do away with this confusing granularity by legalizing all cannabis products. And if passed, the bill would expunge prior convictions related to marijuana, potentially freeing up corrective institutional resources for truly detrimental and violent crimes.
Finally, the “O” in MORE opens an economic channel that previously didn’t exist. With increasing numbers interested in botanical products, revenue-making opportunities abound for states and jurisdictions that offer legal cannabis.
Of course, nothing is without criticism and the MORE Act of 2019 is no exception.
Weed Bill Draws Skeptics
Principally, the criticism that has been forwarded with the most frequency is that the MORE Act is merely a symbolic gesture. Aside from that, the proposal has no substance, all but guaranteed to die in the legislative machinery and perhaps eventually forgotten.
While the MORE Act is the first bill related to marijuana legalization approved by a congressional committee, the issue originated in the House of Representatives, a Democratic stronghold. With the measure passing to the Senate, which has a Republican majority, it is unlikely to move forward.
Further, we must appreciate political realities. President Trump ran an unexpectedly successful campaign based in large part on his “law and order” image. Thus, going soft on a contentious issue like full cannabis legalization could be detrimental to his reelection bid. After all, public opinion polls demonstrate that Trump is not the most popular president; thus, he needs to cater to his core conservative base.
Even if the MORE Act successfully became law against all odds, it wouldn’t necessarily mean cannabis for everyone. Individual states still reserve the right to impose their own measures, which could be more draconian than the federal standard. Since marijuana is not a Constitutional right, theoretically, states can limit how cannabis products is distributed in their jurisdiction (if at all).
Not surprisingly, critics and skeptics of the MORE Act have essentially derided the proposal as a distraction. With no realistic pathway to legalization, this measure simply adds more bureaucracy to the political machinery.
However, those who staunchly hold to this view are missing the bigger point.
Public Sentiment Rising
Not surprisingly, most Millennials and members of the younger Generation Z support marijuana legalization, often times passionately so. They grew up in a progressive environment that challenged established social mores.
Additionally, Millennials are more practical in how they see the world. For instance, moral values – which are inherently flexible – should not be the arbiter of cannabis laws if that same morality imposes hardships and unreasonable penalties on end-users.
What is surprising, though, is the comprehensive support for legalization that cuts across multiple demographic categories. According to an October 2019 Gallup poll, 80% of Millennials support marijuana legalization. But that sentiment has trickled over into older generations.
For instance, 63% of Generation X support legalization, whereas 61% of Baby Boomers likewise favor cannabis permissibility. Only what Gallup calls the “Traditionalist” generation – this category is many times referred to as the “Silent Generation” – do you find opposition (56%).
Still, let’s bring up an important wrinkle to the latter statistic. Among those 65 years and older, 49% favor legalization and 49% oppose it. Thus, even among the oldest demographics, you’ll likely find voices that are supportive of current cannabis initiatives.
Thus, those who consider the MORE Act as pure symbolism are ignoring the larger narrative: Millennials are making their first meaningful impact in the workforce, society and politics. Soon, Generation Z will join them.
And what do they all have in common? Aside from concerns about the environment, they’re united in botanical freedoms. Therefore, while the MORE Act may fall, it has opened up a Pandora’s box. Over the next several years, we’ll see a concerted front to support cannabis legalization at the federal level.
Indeed, the much-maligned green plant has already impacted the political spectrum favorably. Among Democrats, 76% support legalization, which again isn’t surprising. However, 51% of Republicans also support legalization. Technically, that’s a majority of what has been a staunch conservative and faith-based organization.
True, from an ideological angle, those who identify as “conservative” still oppose (50%) legalization initiatives. But the scale and magnitude of opposition has severely declined over the past decade. Only a few hardnosed holdouts remain among conservative circles. Very soon, a majority of conservatives will likely support legalization.
Looking Forward to 2020
With the political drama in Washington showing no signs of abating, 2020 virtually promises to be the most dynamic if not outright vitriolic election campaign in U.S. history.
Clearly, the American electorate has vital issues to vote on and they should do so with a sense of responsibility. And while marijuana legalization isn’t the most critical issue that we must face, it’s undeniably becoming an important one for millions of families.
At the core of the MORE Act of 2019 is the facilitation of individual liberties that have been denied for decades under dubious pretenses. While botanical enthusiasts swear by the underlying platform’s therapeutic benefits, that’s not the point here. Rather, people should have the choice to decide whether or not this platform is appropriate for them.
If so, the government has no ethical grounds in denying a knowledgeable, consenting adult to consume a botanical product.
Thus, cannabis advocates and end-users shouldn’t worry about the outcome of the MORE Act. This proposal merely reflected the sentiment of the American people today. Tomorrow, public opinion will surely and decisively shift favorably, finally making good on the original bill’s potential.