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A cannabis legalization bill just got farther in the legislation process than any other such bill since prohibition. The Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment, and Expungement Act a.k.a. the MORE Act has passed the House judiciary committee by a vote of 24 to 10. If it is not claimed by another committee for review, HR 3884 will go onto to a floor vote in the House of Representatives.
“Thousands of individuals — overwhelmingly people of color — have been subjected, by the federal government, to unjust prison sentences for marijuana offenses,” said House Judiciary Committee chair Jerry Nadler, who has been one of the bill’s primary architects. “This needs to stop.”
“For the first time, a Congressional committee has approved far-reaching legislation to not just put an end to federal marijuana prohibition, but to address the countless harms our prohibitionist policies have wrought, notable on communities of color and other marginalized groups,” said NORML executive director Erik Altieri in a press release.
Congress has fielded criticism for its first attempt at regulating cannabis, the SAFE Banking Act. Many marijuana activists noted that legislation was built around protecting financial institutions that work with cannabis companies — not users, and not the out-sized population in the United States of people incarcerated on nonviolent drug-related charges.
The issue is a significant one. The New York Times reports that the number one reason for arrests in the United States over the past 10 years has been drugs, and the number one drug involved in those arrests was marijuana. In 2018, that totaled to 659,700 cannabis-related arrests.
The MORE Act has the potential to dramatically alter this state of affairs. By removing cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act, it would allow states to craft their own ways of regulating marijuana. Federal courts would be required to expunge past cannabis-related convictions and to hold re-sentencing hearings for people currently incarcerated or on parole.
It would also remove many of the penalties that currently exist on a federal level for those that use cannabis. The MORE Act would ban federal housing discrimination, and bar any adverse effects on immigration status or processing that is now a fact of life for individuals that use cannabis, or have a past cannabis-related conviction.
“This legislation won’t make up for the full scale of harm that prohibition has caused to its victims,” commented Drug Policy Alliance executive director Maria McFarland Sánchez-Moreno in a press release. “It’s not going to return anyone their lost dreams, time lost at the mercy of the criminal justice system; or the years spent away from their families. But this legislation is the closest we’ve come yet to not only ending those harms at the federal level, but also beginning to repair them.”
The bill would also set into motion a five percent excise tax on cannabis sales, money that would be reinvested into programs intended to ameliorate some of the disastrous effects of the War on Drugs. Different funds would be established to help individuals whose lives have been impacted by drug policing, as well as small business owners looking to get a foothold in the expanded cannabis industry.
“Now that Chairman Nadler has moved the MORE Act through committee, it is time for the full House to vote and have every member of Congress show their constituents which side of history they stand on,” said NORML political director Justin Strekal.
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