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MORE ACT Decriminalization Fight Renewed in Congress

The Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act (MORE Act), which would decriminalize cannabis, among other things, has been reintroduced by House.

Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), along with Representatives Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) and Nydia Velázquez (D-NY) introduced it.

Nadler previously led the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives in passing the MORE Act last December. However, the Republican-led Senate didn’t act, so the bill died and needed to be reintroduced again.

“I’m proud to reintroduce the MORE Act to decriminalize marijuana at the federal level, remove the needless burden of marijuana convictions on so many Americans. And invest in communities that have been disproportionately harmed by the War on Drugs,” Nadler said.

Advancing Social Justice

The MORE Act decriminalizes cannabis at the federal level. In addition, it aims to correct the injustices of drug policies that disproportionately impacted communities of color and low-income communities. It would require resentencing and expungement of prior convictions. The MORE Act also ensures that all benefits are available to juvenile offenders.

“Congress must deal with the problems created by the failed federal policy of prohibition,” said Blumenauer.

He is founder and co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus.

“With a strong base of support in the House and in the Senate, the table is set,” Blumenauer added. “It’s past time that we stop federal interference with cannabis banking and research. As well as the terrible pattern of selective enforcement that has devastated communities of color.”

“We must deliver justice to those most impacted by America’s racist and discriminatory cannabis laws,” said Lee.

She is co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus with Blumenauer.

“We are on our way toward true justice,” Lee added.

“The failed War on Drugs began almost fifty years ago. Richard Nixon declared drug abuse public enemy number one,” said Jeffries. “Since then, marijuana use has been socially accepted behavior in some neighborhoods and criminal conduct in others.”

“Our communities of color have been over-policed by racially biased practices. That has led to a disproportionate amount of unjust arrests for low-level marijuana possession,” Velázquez said.

“Given the rapidly growing number of states with legal cannabis markets and the steadily increasing support from voters across the political spectrum. We expect there could be even more support for ending the failed federal prohibition in this session,” said Aaron Smith, co-founder, and CEO of the National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA).

The Benefits of the MORE Act

The MORE Act decriminalizes cannabis at the federal level by removing the substance from the Controlled Substances Act. It applies retroactively to prior and pending convictions and enables states to set policies. The bill also requires federal courts to expunge prior convictions, allows prior offenders to request expungement. And requires courts to conduct resentencing hearings for those still under supervision.

It authorizes the assessment of a 5% sales tax on cannabis and cannabis products to create an Opportunity Trust Fund, which includes three grant programs:

  1. A Community Reinvestment Grant Program would provide services to individuals adversely impacted by the War on Drugs, including job training, re-entry services, legal aid, literacy programs, youth recreation, mentoring, and substance use treatment.
  2. The Cannabis Opportunity Grant Program would provide loans to assist small businesses in the cannabis industry. They would go to companies owned and controlled by socially and economically disadvantaged individuals.
  3. The Equitable Licensing Grant Program would provide funds for programs that minimize barriers to marijuana licensing. And employment for the individuals most adversely impacted by the War on Drugs.

Cannabis Industry Provisions

The MORE Act would also open up the Small Business Administration (SBA) to provide funding for legitimate cannabis-related businesses and service providers.

The bill provides discrimination protections for cannabis use or possession and prior convictions for an offense. In addition, it prohibits the denial of any federal public benefit (including housing) based on use or possession or prior conviction for an offense. The bill also provides that the use or possession of cannabis, or prior conviction for a marijuana offense, will have no adverse impact on immigration status for those who are not citizens.

The MORE Act also requires the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) to collect data on the industry’s demographics. This would ensure people of color and economically disadvantaged people can participate.

The MORE Act has the support of a coalition of civil rights, criminal justice, drug policy, and immigration groups. They include the Drug Policy Alliance, the ACLU, NORML, Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP), the Center for American Progress, Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP), Human Rights Watch, Immigrant Legal Resource Center, Law Enforcement Action Partnership, Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, Sentencing Project, UndocuBlack Network, and the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA).

Decriminalize Cannabis

“The MORE Act was approved by the House of Representatives in the previous session. Congress demonstrated in no uncertain terms that the days of federal marijuana prohibition are numbered,” said NORML Political Director Justin Strekal. “While Senate Majority Leader Schumer and Senators Booker and Wyden continue to solicit feedback for their forthcoming legislation in the Upper Chamber, the House is preparing to once again advance criminal justice-focused legislation.”

The NCIA and other advocates are concerned about the lack of a strong and comprehensive regulatory structure being included in the introductory language. Since it is not a legalization bill, it makes sense no regulatory structure would be created.

“We need to move beyond the alcohol and tobacco models and incorporate the lessons learned in legal cannabis markets. If we want to create a regulatory environment where small businesses can truly thrive. Which will start to repair the disparate harms caused by nearly a century of prohibition,” Smith said.

A recent Gallup poll showed a record 68 percent of Americans support making cannabis legal.

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