After overwhelmingly voting to decriminalize cannabis at the federal level last year, House leaders proposed a bill on Friday to remove marijuana from the list of banned substances and invest in communities disproportionately impacted by the drug war.
Reinvest and Expunge
The Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act of 2021, commonly known as the MORE Act, would also erase criminal penalties, cleanse criminal records, and establish social equity initiatives aimed at healing the harm caused by decades of prohibition to individuals and communities.
Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Jerry Nadler, D-New York, presented the bill.
“Many states around the country, including my home state of New York, have moved to legalize marijuana since I proposed the MORE Act last Congress,” Nadler said in a statement. “We need our federal laws to keep up with this.”
Last year, the bill died in the Senate where a companion bill also perished. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), and Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ), and Ron Wyden, (D-OR), are set to present a second bill later this year.
The new law includes stronger social justice provisions aimed at addressing the generational costs of prohibition, such as removing wording that would bar applicants with felony cannabis convictions from receiving federal licenses.
The bill would impose a 5% tax on cannabis retail sales, which would rise to 8% after three years. The money raised would go to the Opportunity Trust Fund, which would help impacted communities with job training, re-entry assistance, legal aid, and health education programs.
The bill would also establish an Office of Cannabis Justice to supervise social equity components, prohibit the federal government from penalizing cannabis users who rely on social programs, and expand research opportunities.
The Cannabis Restorative Opportunity Program would be established by the Small Business Administration to assist enterprises owned and run by “socially and economically disadvantaged individuals.” The SBA mandate would require the development and implementation of fair cannabis licensing programs that remove barriers for those who have been harmed by the drug war.
“The entire aim and aim of this bill is to remedy previous harms of drug prohibition,” said Drug Policy Alliance National Affairs Director Maritza Perez. “We’re looking for another successful House vote to keep the momentum going.”
Despite progress toward decriminalization, existing drug restrictions continue to disproportionately affect people of color. According to a 2020 research by the American Civil Liberties Union, black people are three times more likely than white people to be arrested for cannabis possession. According to the ACLU, enforcing cannabis prohibition laws costs taxpayers $3.6 billion each year.
“This bill will allow a lot of people a fresh start,” said of Medical Marijuana Inc. CEO Stuart Titus.
A Herculean Effort
However, Titus believes that passing cannabis legislation will need a “herculean effort,” and that Democrats will need to gain more Republican backing if they want to eliminate prohibition.
The vote last December marked the first time a whole chamber of Congress took up the question of decriminalizing cannabis on a federal level. 222 Democrats voted in support of approving the MORE Act, while only six voted against it. It received five Republican votes in favor and 158 votes against.
Titus stated, “This has historic ramifications.” “We have a whole industry here that is about to take off.”
According to the bill, legal cannabis sales reached $20 billion in 2020 and are expected to more than triple by 2025.
The federal government has relied on an uneasy ceasefire with states that have chosen to craft their own cannabis laws for nearly a decade. Currently, recreational cannabis is allowed in 17 states, two territories, and Washington, D.C.
Medical cannabis is permitted in 36 states and two territories.
The conflict between state and federal law has contributed to a lack of clarity about cannabis consumers’ rights to purchase and use the drug.
According to Michigan-based Exclusive Brands CDO Narmin Jarrous, her primary care doctor dropped her when she tested positive for marijuana. Jarrous suffers from endometriosis-related chronic pain and prefers marijuana to stronger pain relievers like Vicodin and opioids.
“I know it’s happening to [other] patients if it’s happening to me,” she said. “In my perspective, that was such an idiotic policy, and it just shows how much work we still have to do as a society.”