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A customer makes a purchase at Sunnyside Cannabis Dispensary on January 1, 2020 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo: Kamil Krzaczynski/AFP via Getty Images)

Rights Groups Applaud Reintroduction of MORE Act to Reverse Harms of War on Drugs

House Democrats removed language that was in an earlier version of the bill which would have excluded some of those most impacted by failed drug policies from participating in the marijuana industry. 

Julia Conley

Marijuana legalization advocates applauded Friday as House Democrats reintroduced the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act with the aim of decriminalizing marijuana at the federal level and correcting the injustices of the United States' failed "war on drugs."

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) is the lead sponsor of the legislation, also known as the MORE Act, and led the House in passing the bill last year in a bipartisan vote of 228 to 164. 

Along with co-sponsors Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas), Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), and Nydia Velázquez (D-N.Y.), Nadler announced his intention to ensure the bill passes in both chambers of Congress now that Democrats control the House and the Senate, and following numerous strides toward marijuana legalization at the state level. 

"With the majority of Americans in favor of marijuana legalization for adult use, and the way in which communities of color have been devastated by prohibition finally being widely acknowledged, prioritizing marijuana reform that begins to undo this harm and give back to those communities should be a no-brainer."
—Queen Adesuyi, Drug Policy Alliance 

"Since I introduced the MORE Act last Congress, numerous states across the nation, including my home state of New York, have moved to legalize marijuana. Our federal laws must keep up with this pace," said Nadler. "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."

In addition to removing marijuana from the federal Controlled Substances Act and eliminating the discrepancy between state and federal marijuana laws, the MORE Act would:

  • Facilitate the expungement of low-level, federal marijuana conviction  and incentivize state and local governments to take similar actions;
  • Remove the threat of deportation for immigrants accused of minor marijuana infractions; and
  • Authorize the assessment of a 5% sales tax on marijuana and marijuana products to fund grant programs aimed at reinvesting in the communities harmed by the war on drugs.

The grant programs would provide job training, re-entry programs, legal aid, and other services to people adversely impacted by the nation's discriminatory drug laws; provide loans for small business owners in the marijuana industry who are socially and economically disadvantaged; and fund programs to ensure people affected by the war on drugs have access to marijuana licensing and employment in the industry.

The Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), which worked to secure a vote on the MORE Act last year in Congress, applauded the lawmakers for removing language from the final version of last year's legislation which excluded directly impacted people from participating in the marijuana industry.

"With the majority of Americans in favor of marijuana legalization for adult use, and the way in which communities of color have been devastated by prohibition finally being widely acknowledged, prioritizing marijuana reform that begins to undo this harm and give back to those communities should be a no-brainer," said Queen Adesuyi, policy manager for DPA's Office of National Affairs. "We are grateful that not only was this bill reintroduced so early in the session, but that the exclusionary language that ended up getting added in through the political process last year was removed. This bill is meant to comprehensively address the widespread harms of prohibition, and it is impossible to do that if we are still leaving those that have already paid the steepest price out."

The Marijuana Policy Project called the bill "historic in scope."

Lee, co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, said the MORE Act will put the U.S. on the path "toward true justice... by providing true equity and opportunity for those looking to access this booming industry."

"During the last year, people across the country have seen how injustice impacts communities of color—from police brutality to the Covid-19 pandemic. The war on drugs is no exception. We must deliver justice to those most impacted by America's racist and discriminatory cannabis laws," said Lee. "This bill will not only put an end to harmful federal cannabis policies that have ruined countless lives, it will seek to reverse the damage."

National polling has shown steadily growing support for marijuana decriminalization. A Quinnipiac University survey in April 2021 showed 69% of respondents said marijuana use should be legal in the U.S., compared with 25% who said it should not. Less than half a year earlier, in November 2020, a Gallup poll found that 68% of respondents supported marijuana legalization and 32% opposed it. 

Last November, voters in states including Mississippi, Montana, and South Dakota approved referendums to legalize marijuana, and state legislatures in New York, Virginia, and New Mexico have approved bills to allow recreational use. Only 13 states continue to outlaw marijuana use for both recreational and medicinal purposes; 17 have legalized recreational use. 

"Last year, we saw more progress toward cannabis legalization than ever before. This has been driven by unprecedented reforms at the state level. Now, Congress must deal with the problems created by the failed federal policy of prohibition," said Blumenauer, 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. 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. The MORE Act will help address all of these problems and more."

In the Senate, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), along with Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.), announced their intention earlier this year to introduce their own comprehensive cannabis reform bill.

"When 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 Justin Strekal, political director for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws  (NORML). "While Senate Majority Leader Schumer and Sens. 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 that will bring our failed prohibitionist policies to an end while also ensuring that those Americans who are saddled with the consequences of a marijuana conviction can have their records cleared."

DPA called the MORE Act "the only comprehensive marijuana bill in Congress that leads with social justice" and urged supporters to demand passage in the House and Senate.

Along with NORML and DPA, the ACLU, Human Rights Watch, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, and the Sentencing Project are among the organizations supporting the MORE Act. 

"It is clear, by the overwhelming extent to which they passed the MORE Act last session, that the House understands this for the urgent racial and social justice issue it is," said Maritza Perez, director of the Office of National Affairs at DPA. "Our communities that have borne the brunt of marijuana prohibition have waited long enough for justice. We urge House leadership to move swiftly to bring the bill back to the floor this session, so that we can continue the momentum and move a marijuana justice bill in the Senate as well."


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