House vote to decriminalize marijuana reflects the will of the American public, says Baker Institute expert

Cannabis Plant

HOUSTON – (Dec. 4, 2020) – The U.S. House of Representatives today approved legislation that would decriminalize marijuana and seek to "address the devastating injustices caused by the war on drugs."

Cannabis Plant
Credit: University

Katharine Neill Harris, the Alfred C. Glassell III Fellow in Drug Policy at Rice University's Baker Institute for Public Policy, is available to discuss the so-called MORE Act with the news media.

"The passage of this bill is significant because it marks the first time that meaningful marijuana reform has advanced this far in the legislative process," Neill Harris said. "The bill decriminalizes cannabis possession at the federal level and it includes explicit provisions to address the racial disparities created by the war on drugs. This is critical because too often we see racial disparities in marijuana policy and enforcement persist at the state level, despite many states having legalized medical and nonmedical use. This bill could provide a blueprint to prohibitionist states for how to proceed with sensible and equitable marijuana reform.

"While some opponents of marijuana legalization have criticized the bill, it is important to note that the bill does not create a commercial market for marijuana sales. It simply removes penalties at the federal level," she said.

The vote in the House reflects the will of the American public, the majority of which does not think marijuana use should be a criminal offense, Neill Harris said. "Unfortunately, the bill will face significant hurdles in the Senate, where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has been dismissive of the bill and the House's decision to vote on it, arguing rather disingenuously that the House is putting marijuana reform ahead of passing a coronavirus relief package," she said.

The MORE Act would decriminalize marijuana by removing it from the list of federally controlled substances and abolishing criminal penalties for possession, distribution and manufacturing, Neill Harris said. Several other provisions address racial disparities and other damages caused by the drug war, including establishing a federal expungement process for marijuana convictions, prohibiting denial of federal public benefits or immigration protections on the basis of marijuana-related convictions, creating a trust fund to support services in communities impacted by the drug war, and requiring the Bureau of Labor Statistics to collect and publish demographic data on those who work in the marijuana industry.

"Federal decriminalization would also help diversify the cannabis industry by giving banks the green light to approve loans for cannabis-related businesses, granting potential access to capital among less wealthy cannabis entrepreneurs," she said.

To schedule an interview with Harris or for more information, contact Jeff Falk, director of national media relations at Rice, at or 713-348-6775.


Related materials:

Harris bio:

Follow the Baker Institute via Twitter @BakerInstitute.

Follow Rice News and Media Relations via Twitter @RiceUNews.

Founded in 1993, Rice University’s Baker Institute ranks as the No. 2 university-affiliated think tank in the world and the No. 1 energy think tank in the world. As a premier nonpartisan think tank, the institute conducts research on domestic and foreign policy issues with the goal of bridging the gap between the theory and practice of public policy. The institute’s strong track record of achievement reflects the work of its endowed fellows, Rice University faculty scholars and staff, coupled with its outreach to the Rice student body through fellow-taught classes — including a public policy course — and student leadership and internship programs. Learn more about the institute at or on the institute’s blog,