California Senator - and 2020 presidential candidate - Kamala Harris (D) - is teaming up with House Judiciary Committee Chair Jerry Nadler (D-NY) to decriminalize cannabis in America.
The legislative duo are expected to introduce a cannabis decriminalization bill - called the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act - today in Congress. The MORE Act aims to decriminalize cannabis nationally and repair "the damage done by the war on drugs."
If passed, possession and use of cannabis would no longer be crimes under federal law, and federal cannabis convictions would be expunged or re-sentenced. Federal agencies would no longer be allowed to deny people benefits (e.g. access to student loans, public housing and other social programs) for consuming cannabis. On top of that, the feds would no longer deport immigrants for cannabis related-convictions.
However, states would be allowed to continue to set their own cannabis laws. So this bill would end the federal criminalization of cannabis, but each individual state would be allowed to uphold the status quo, if they chose.
Senator Harris said the bill reflects changing attitudes toward cannabis in America.
"Times have changed—marijuana should not be a crime," she said in a statement.
While most frontrunners for the Democratic Party's 2020 presidential nomination have already filed their own cannabis reform bills, Harris had refrained from taking action till now. But she isn't just copying notes from her fellow contenders. The MORE Act goes a little further than many other marijuana reform bills by creating a federal fund that would be dedicated to helping communities that have been hit hardest by the War on Drugs.
The money would be generated from a five percent federal sales tax on all cannabis products. That tax revenue would be used to support social programs such as job training and legal aid to people in those communities. Tax dollars would also be used to help fund legal marijuana businesses owned and operated by "socially and economically disadvantaged individuals."
The focus on social justice in the Harris-Nadler bill has some advocates calling the MORE Act the strongest piece of cannabis legislation that's before Congress right now.
"This is the most comprehensive and functional legislation put forth," Justin Strekal - Political Director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws - told CNBC.
The bill also represents the culmination of Harris' evolution on the topic of cannabis legalization. While campaigning to become attorney general of California in 2014, she scoffed at her opponent's commitment to loosening the state's cannabis regulations. And when the state voted on recreational legalization in 2016, Harris withheld her vote.
Rep. Nadler, on the other hand, has long been a supporter of reforming federal drug laws, and he has previously expressed interest in discussing cannabis in the House Judiciary Committee. As the current chair of the committee, Nadler's support of the bill is sure to influence many other US Representatives to vote in favor of the legislation, giving it a good chance of advancing in the House.
But the MORE Act is likely to have a more difficult time moving through the Republican-controlled Senate. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (KY) has previously said he is not interested in cannabis legalization, so while he holds sway over one chamber of Congress, it's unlikely that we'll see this or other marijuana reform bills get passed.