The MORE Act and Its Significance for the British Cannabis Market
In July 2019, the US Congress passed the MORE Act (Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act). This was a proposal decriminalizing cannabis consumption at the federal level. The Act, however, did not pass the US Senate.
In May 2021, Congress made a new effort to pass the MORE Act, in a second attempt to legalize the use and consumption of cannabis across all 50 American States. At the time of writing, it awaits approval from the Senate.
The MORE Act is an attempt by lawmakers to bring the law in line with public opinion. According to Gallup, almost 70% of Americans support the legalization of cannabis for recreational use and more than 18 states in the United States have legalized the recreational use of marijuana. These states include California, Colorado, Oregon, Washington, Illinois, Connecticut, Arizona, and more.
However, decriminalization at the state level creates an uneven patchwork of laws and regulations. For instance, marijuana consumers in Colorado can take their marijuana anywhere within the state except for national parks, as these are federal rather than state grounds. This creates uncertainty and unnecessary complications.
Why is the MORE Act significant for the UK?
The MORE Act is a reflection of what American consumers expect from their government. However, there is growing acceptance of cannabis consumption at a global level. Since the United States leads several consumption models, the passing of the MORE Act would likely launch similar initiatives in the United Kingdom and Europe.
Already, 52% of Britons support the decriminalization of cannabis consumption according to YouGov. As public opinion moves closer to legalizing something that used to be widely legal and consumed until the 1930s, it is expected that lawmakers will feel the pressure to move a step closer to their constituents.
What does the MORE Act mean for the United States?
The MORE Act legalizes cannabis consumption at the federal level. It leaves it up to the 50 states to decide the legal framework that would regulate marijuana consumption within their jurisdiction. This means that people smoking or consuming cannabis would not face charges.
Expungement of previous cannabis-related offences
Another provision of the MORE ACT is to expunge previous cannabis related-offences. Incarcerated people on charges of cannabis consumption and sale could see their charges dropped.
Bearing in mind that cannabis incarceration has a social and racial component, this would mean that the MORE Act would benefit minorities, as Black and Hispanic minorities are statistically over-represented in incarceration related to marijuana consumption. Marijuana users represent more than 30% of substance abuse offences.
This has long-term repercussions. Incarceration is linked to lower future income and fewer job prospects in life. Ex-prisoners find it hard to earn a living as their professional prospects are tarnished by their incarceration.
Taxation at the federal level for increased revenue
The groundwork for the MORE Act also aims at improving tax revenue from marijuana sales. It plans on levying a 5% tax on all marijuana sales for the federal government.
Investment in communities ravaged by drug wars
With the extra taxation, the plan is to divert part of this income to communities that are harmed by drug wars. Again, there is a social aspect to the proposed law.
Minority communities and racially discriminated ones are unfairly harmed by drug wars. The MORE Act would address this imbalance by giving money and incentives to local communities through training and mentorship programmes as well as job opportunities. As people become more involved in their community, the expectation is that they will care for their neighbourhood and its well-being.
The MORE Act and the UK
The MORE Act is a reflection of public opinion and changing attitudes to cannabis in the United States. However, it also has repercussions for the UK. Something that becomes legal in the United States is bound to influence policymakers in the UK.
What is the legal status of cannabis in the UK?
Consumption of cannabis in the UK is considered an offence. Cannabis is classified as a class B drug, which carries the possibility of imprisonment and/or a fine.
Cannabis used to be legal in the UK until 1928. There are numerous mentions of Victorians consuming cannabis, including, it is rumoured, Queen Victoria.
Even after it was made illegal, recreational use of cannabis never stopped—even though it carried sentences and fines. The 2016 Home Office Survey notes that “6.6 per cent of adults aged 16 to 59 having used [cannabis] it in the last year (around 2.2 million people).” According to the survey, this trend has remained flat since 2009. This means that people are undeterred by the possibility of fines, prison sentences, and having their records blemished.
Cannabis consumption and racial communities
A 2010 UK Drug Policy Commission came to some interesting conclusions regarding drug consumption and minorities. Cannabis was the most commonly used drug across all ethnic groups and age groups. The report also noted that, “in general, overall drug use is lower among minority ethnic groups than among the White population” while the “lowest overall levels of drug use are reported by people from Asian backgrounds (Indian, Pakistani or Bangladeshi).”
Yet, in a 2018 government report, “for all ethnic groups in 2018, the most common drug offence was possession of a class B drug (cannabis), accounting for 36% of drug offence prosecutions where ethnicity was known. Black defendants had the largest proportion of prosecutions for possession of class B drugs at 47%.”
Even in the UK, there seems to be a racial imbalance between cannabis consumption and drug offence prosecutions. The legalization of cannabis would mean that fewer people would be prosecuted. This could have an impact on drug wars and might free up resources to fight class A drug consumption such as heroin, LSD, cocaine, and ecstasy.
More research into cannabis and marijuana
A further benefit of cannabis legalization in the UK is that it would lead to increased scientific research into cannabis and marijuana.
THC, one of the main cannabinoids in cannabis, is hallucinogenic and psychotropic. However, preliminary findings suggest that cannabis may be helpful with pain control, inflammation, and chronic diseases such as Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis, Huntington’s disease, and epilepsy.
The legalization of cannabis will allow research labs to freely conduct research and trials. This can prove or disprove the therapeutic potential of cannabis and provide the community with accurate findings instead of anecdotal evidence.
Right now, many people are taking cannabis illegally, in the hope that it will soothe their ailments. It would be much better if we knew how and if it can help.
A better-regulated market
A better-regulated market is good news for the consumer. A legalized market helps control the quality and growing conditions of cannabis. Instead of risking consuming subpar marijuana, consumers would have the certainty that the product they are taking is clean and harmless. They would also control the THC content far better, which reduces the possibility of grave side effects such as psychotic episodes or increased heart rate and blood pressure.
This is consistent with the CBD experience. Once the cannabinoid was legalized, the market started to regulate itself. Although there is no official body overseeing the CBD market, CBD producers are concerned about their reputation.
As there is fierce competition between CBD manufacturers, they are trying to win consumers by offering high-quality products. CBD producers often run tests on their products and display their Certificates of Analysis (CoA) which confirm the purity and potency of their products.
The same could happen with cannabis and marijuana products. A regulated market is always easier to check and supervise. Tax revenues would also rise. In the US, eight states that have legalized marijuana raised $2 billion in tax revenue from marijuana sales in 2020 alone.
Cannabis consumption in Europe
In Europe, too, more countries are moving towards a regulated but legalized cannabis market.
In the Netherlands, while the law has not completely decriminalized cannabis consumption, it has decriminalized the possession of up to 5 gr of cannabis. Nearby Belgium has set the limit at 3 gr. Luxembourg, Slovenia, and Croatia have decriminalized cannabis, while Italy has decriminalized possession. Austria has decriminalized personal use.
This is consistent with the 2020 KanaVape ruling that opens the way for CBD to be considered a novel food. The European Court of Justice (CJEU) ruled that CBD may not be considered as a narcotic drug within the scope of the UN’s Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs.
The ruling can be seen as part of a growing trend towards decriminalizing cannabis consumption for personal use. As public opinion becomes more accepting of cannabis, governments are faced with the dilemma of legalizing cannabis or ignoring the will of the people.
Cannabis in the United Kingdom
Cannabis consumption is still illegal in the United Kingdom. However, public opinion is more accepting of legalizing marijuana for recreational purposes.
By legalizing the sale and consumption of cannabis, the UK could earn taxes from marijuana sales. It could also expand the research into cannabis to find out whether cannabis can indeed help with diseases, chronic pain, and mental issues. This would be a significant move into establishing the true potential of cannabis.
Finally, a legalized market is always easier to regulate and control. It brings transparency in the market and safer consumption.
The cannabis market is assumed to have reached $20 billion in 2019 and is expected to grow to more than $100 bn by 2027. Growing demand requires a new framework that could help unlock the true potential of cannabis.
Top-level initiatives like the MORE Act suggest that laying such a framework may be close. Should marijuana become legal in the United States, this will inevitably influence policymakers in the UK. Perhaps we’ll be soon reporting on similar UK initiatives!