House Judiciary Committee Approves Marijuana Decriminalization

In a groundbreaking decision on Wednesday, the House Judiciary Committee approved the MORE Act, which would effectively end federal marijuana prohibition if it became law. Short for the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment, and Expungement Act, the MORE Act (HR 3884) would take cannabis off the Controlled Substances Act — where it's currently categorized as Schedule I along with drugs like heroin — and impose a small excise tax on legal pot sales in order to fund criminal record expungement.

A bipartisan issue, the measure passed with a vote of 24 to 10, indicating a readiness among lawmakers to reconcile state and federal cannabis law. 

"This is a truly historic moment in our nation's political history," says Erik Altieri, executive director of NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws). "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." He adds that two thirds of Americans now support marijuana legalization, and that Congress should respect the will of the people and move the MORE Act through to become law. 

Not only would the measure federally decriminalize cannabis, but it would also apply retroactively to prior and pending convictions. And it would allow states to determine their own policies. Federal courts would be required to expunge prior convictions and to allow prior offenders to request expungement. For those who are still under supervision, courts would have to conduct re-sentencing hearings. 

In regard to taxation, cannabis would be subject to a five percent excise tax in order to create the Opportunity Trust Fund, which would include three grant programs. One would be the Community Reinvestment Grant Program to provide services like job training, re-entry, legal aid, literacy programs, mentoring, youth recreation, and substance abuse treatment to people who have been adversely impacted by the War on Drugs. Another, the Cannabis Opportunity Grant Program, would provide funds for loans to help small cannabis businesses owned by folks from underprivileged backgrounds. And the thirdly, the Equitable Licensing Grant Program, would fund programs to lower the barriers to entry to cannabis licensing and employment for people who have been targeted by the Drug War.

Moreover, the measure would open a Small Business Administration fund for cannabis-related businesses and services, as well as provide nondiscrimination protections for cannabis use or possession, and for prior cannabis convictions. That means, the denial of federal public benefits (like housing) to those convicted of cannabis violations, or who possess cannabis, would be prohibited. The measure would also keep any cannabis use or violations from having an adverse impact under immigration law. 

Lastly, the measure would require the Bureau of Labor Statistics to track demographic data on the cannabis industry to make sure people of color and low-income folks are able to participate. 

"This legislation won’t make up for the full scale of harm that prohibition has caused to its victims. 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," says Maria McFarland Sanchez-Moreno, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. "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. Now it’s up to Congress to do the right thing and swiftly pass the bill to ensure justice is not delayed a moment longer."

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