Members of the US House of Representatives Vote to End Federal Marijuana Criminalization

Today’s historic vote marks the first time in 50 years that a chamber of Congress has revisited the issue of marijuana prohibition

Washington, DC: Members of the House of Representatives voted today to approve the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment, and Expungement (MORE) Act, HR 3884, which removes marijuana from the federal Controlled Substances Act — thereby eliminating the existing conflict between state and federal marijuana laws and providing states with the authority to be the primary arbiters of cannabis policy within their own jurisdictions. Currently, 36 states and Washington, DC regulate medical cannabis access; 15 of those states and Washington, DC have further legalized marijuana use and possession by adults.  

Commenting on today’s House floor vote, NORML Political Director Justin Strekal said: 

“This is a historic day for marijuana policy in the United States. This vote marks the first time in 50 years that a chamber of Congress has ever revisited the classification of cannabis as a federally prohibited substance and sought to close the rapidly widening chasm between state and federal marijuana policies.”

“By establishing this new trajectory for federal policy, we expect that more states will revisit and amend the archaic criminalization of cannabis, establish regulated consumer marketplaces, and direct law enforcement to cease the practice of arresting over half a million Americans annually for marijuna-related violations — arrests which disproportionately fall upon those on people of color and those on the lower end of the economic spectrum.”

In the 2020 election, voters in five additional states overwhelmingly decided in favor of ballot measures legalizing marijuana for either medical or adult use. Once these newly enacted laws are operational, more than one-third of Americans will reside in a jurisdiction where the adult use of marijuana is legal. This existing state/federal conflict is untenable and it is imperative that efforts to address it gain additional legislative momentum ahead of the incoming Biden-Harris Administration. 

While campaigning, President-Elect Biden repeatedly called for the federal government to respect the rights of states that have voted to legalize and regulate marijuana access. Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris is the current lead sponsor of the Senate companion of the MORE Act, S. 2227

NORML’s Executive Director Erik Altieri added: “By going on the record with this vote, House members have set the stage for a much-needed legislative showdown in 2021 when we will have the Biden administration in office — one that has publicly expressed an appetite for advancing the restorative justice remedies outlined in the MORE Act. We are primed and ready for this legislative debate and we expect, ultimately, to win it.”

While the MORE Act federally deschedules cannabis, it does not mandate states that have criminalized marijuana to amend their policies. That decision remains up to individual state governments and/or their voters.

More information about MORE, marijuana policy broadly, and public polling

The MORE Act ends the federal prohibition and criminalization of marijuana by descheduling it from the Controlled Substances Act, thus providing individual states with the authority to be the primary arbiters of cannabis policy. 

FURTHER: The MORE Act would also make several other important changes to federal marijuana policy, including:  

  • Facilitating the expungement of low-level, federal marijuana convictions, and incentivizing state and local governments to take similar actions;
  • Creating pathways for ownership opportunities in the emerging regulated industry for local and diversely-reflective entrepreneurs through the Small Business Administration grant eligibility;
  • Allowing veterans, for the first time, to obtain medical cannabis recommendations from their VA doctors;
  • Removing the threat of deportation for immigrants accused of minor marijuana infractions or who are gainfully employed in the state-legal cannabis industry;
  • Providing critical reinvestment grant opportunities for communities that have suffered disproportionate rates of marijuana-related enforcement actions.

Key Facts:

  • According to a recent report by the ACLU, Black Americans are 3.6 times more likely to be arrested for cannabis-related crimes than white Americans. 
  • According to the FBI UCR, over 545,000 Americans were arrested for marijuana-related crimes in 2019 alone, over 90% of those arrested were charged with mere possession. 
  • The state-legal cannabis industry employs over 243,000 full-time workers; that is over four times the number of jobs specific to the coal industry. 
  • While the substance is not without harm, cannabis is objectively less harmful than legal and regulated alcohol and tobacco. 


Data for Progress, March 2020

Would you [support or oppose] fully legalizing marijuana at the national level? (Democrats only)

  • 80% Support (60% strongly, 20% somewhat)
    • Moderates: 69% support
    • Liberal/Very Liberal: 87% support
  • 14% Oppose (8% strongly, 6% oppose)
    • Moderates: 19% oppose
    • Liberal/Very Liberal: 9% oppose

Pew Research Center, Nov. 2019

Question: The use of marijuana should be made legal?

  • Overall: 67% Yes – 32% No 
  • Democrats / Lean Democrats: 78% Yes – 20% No
  • Republicans / Lean Republicans: 55% Yes – 44% No

Gallup Polling, Oct. 2020

Question: Do you think the use of marijuana should be made legal, or not?

  • Overall: 68% Yes – 32% No
  • Democrat: 83% Yes – 16% No
  • Republicans: 48% Yes – 52% No
  • Independents: 72% Yes – 27% No

For more information, contact Justin Strekal, NORML Political Director.