Politics

Bill decriminalizing marijuana 'great step' but 'largely symbolic,' says cannabis COO

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Key Points
  • The MORE Act would decriminalize cannabis and marks the first time that Congress has ever voted on the issue.
  • The bill would erase non-violent federal marijuana convictions. It stands almost no chance in the Senate, which means it has no chance of becoming law right now. 
  • The historic vote reflects public opinion, and a Gallup Poll showed 68% of Americans support the legalization of cannabis.
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House passes bill to decriminalize marijuana, but it won't get past the Senate

This week became historic for the "legalize marijuana" movement, with the House of Representatives passing the MORE Act by a vote of 228-164 on Friday.

The bill would decriminalize cannabis and marks the first time that Congress has ever voted on the issue. The MORE Act would erase non-violent federal marijuana convictions. It stands almost no chance in the Senate, which means no chance of becoming law. 

Arun Kurichety, the chief operating officer and general counsel for Petalfast, told "The News with Shepard Smith" that the MORE Act is more of a symbolic step in the right direction. Petalfast is a first-of-its-kind full spectrum sales and marketing agency for the cannabis industry.

"The passage of the MORE Act is a great step in terms of recognizing the injustices present in the criminal justice system, but unfortunately, this is all largely symbolic as the bill has little chance of passing the Senate - until and unless - the Democrats are able to secure a majority in the Senate," Kurichety said. "Hopefully, this act will help continue to shed a light on reversing injustices and promote additional growth in the industry as reflected by the public support and passage of various state laws legalizing cannabis."

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., took a jab at the bill during a floor speech. He said, "the House of Representatives is spending this week on pressing issues like marijuana. You know, serious and important legislation befitting this national crisis.″

Kurichety said that cannabis business owners and customers alike would stand to benefit if the MORE Act passed. 

"There is still a stigma surrounding cannabis market participants," Kurichety said. "If the More Act were to pass, it would allow our customers access, among other things, to traditional banking and capital resources, and would significantly reduce barriers of entry for new customers, including those disproportionately affected by the current legal regime."  

The historic vote reflects public opinion too, and a Gallup Poll showed 68% of Americans support the legalization of cannabis. It's the highest number ever. One in three Americans now live in a state with legalized recreational marijuana, while 34 states permit it for medical use. Despite this, cannabis is still classified as a Schedule I drug, which means it's illegal under federal law. Kurichety explained that the absence of a federal law could lead to loss all around. 

"Absent any action, the federal government will continue to lose out on potentially millions of dollars of tax revenue and impede the creation of millions of jobs, which becomes more glaring in the midst of a global pandemic and a recession," Kurichety said. 

According to the Last Prisoner Project, 40,000 Americans are still in prison on marijuana offenses, and the ACLU reported that Black Americans are 3.7 times more likely to be arrested. NBC's Tom Costello spoke with Evelyn LaChapelle who spent five-years in jail separated from her 4-year-old daughter. 

"I was certainly a victim of an unjust system — a system that has systematically attacked Black and Brown people specifically for cannabis," said LaChapelle to Costello.  

Kurichety noted that while the federal government may not pass a much-needed cannabis law anytime soon, local governments will still move the needle. 

"Given the unlikelihood of passage, however, the more significant impact is that cities and states will continue to examine their laws and policies and make more meaningful change at the local level," Kurichety said.