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House Judiciary Votes to Decriminalize Marijuana

November 21, 2019

Yesterday, the House Judiciary Committee voted in favor of meaningful expansive cannabis reform that will restore some justice for victims of the W.  Committee members voted 24-10 in favor of the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment, and Expungement Act, aka the MORE Act. It’s the first time any House committee has approved legislation that is specifically designed to decriminalize marijuana on the federal level.

The MORE Act

HR 3884 will now head to the floor of the House of Representatives for debate and a full vote in which Democrats maintain the majority. This bill will, among other things, decriminalize marijuana by removing it from the Controlled Substances Act. Additionally, the MORE Act will allow veterans to access to medical marijuana, initiate expungements for federal cannabis crimes, and encourage states to expunge cannabis convictions with incentives.

The MORE Act was originally proposed by California Senator Kamala Harris and Rep. Jerry Nadler, however they’ve recently been preoccupied with campaigning and hearings. In their absence, California Representative Barbara Lee has become the champion for this legalization legislation fighting for her constituents in Oakland.

Support for Expunging Cannabis Crimes

Not only does she serve a district with a long-standing cannabis history and culture, the residents of Oakland have disproportionately targeted by law enforcement and the war on cannabis. This is why expungements is at the core of the MORE Act and if passed, will include measures to repair the damage done and provide job opportunities for those affected.

Representative Lee commented on her hope for this legislation  saying, “I’m pleased that this critical bill includes key tenets from my own legislation to right the wrongs of the failed and racist war on drugs by expunging criminal convictions, reinvesting in communities of color through restorative justice, and promoting equitable participation in the legal marijuana industry.

The proposal also imposes a 5% federal cannabis sales tax that would help fund the expungement programs and reinvestment grants. These grants will stimulate the growth of cannabis businesses in low-income communities that have been significantly impacted by the war on drugs. There will be three main grant categories:

  • The Community Reinvestment Grant Program: Provides assistance to former cannabis convicts who were a victim of the War on Drugs. This includes access to job training, re-entry services, legal aid, literacy programs, youth recreation, mentoring and substance abuse rehabilitation.
  • The Cannabis Opportunity Grant Program: Provides financial loans to help mom and pop marijuana businesses that are owned by socially and economically disadvantaged individual.
  • The Equitable Licensing Grant Program: Allocates funds for programs that advise individuals on marijuana licensing and provide employment for those who’ve been convicted of cannabis crimes. 

Chairman Jerry Nadler addressed the approval of the MOVE Act saying, “These steps are long overdue. For far too long we’ve treated marijuana as a criminal justice problem instead of a matter of personal choice and public health. Arresting, prosecuting, and incarcerating people at the federal level is unwise and unjust.” 

Future of the MORE Act

It looks the MORE Act has a bright future in the lower house of Congress, however, more Republicans support the STATES Act over the MORE Act. Once this bill reaches the Senate, it might not even make it through committee, but this type of progress is a milestone in decriminalizing cannabis at the federal level.

Whether or not this piece of legislation will pass during this legislative session is yet to be seen. If the upcoming elections result in a shift in power on Capitol Hill, the MORE Act has the potential to become law. 

NORML Political Director Justin Strekal pointed out that, “In 2018 alone, over 663,000 Americans were arrested for marijuana-related crimes, a three-year high. 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.”