Today Judiciary Committee Chair Jerry Nadler reintroduced historic legislation to repeal the federal prohibition of marijuana in the US House of Representatives. Democrats feel better about their chances of passing the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment, and Expungement Act of 2021, or the MORE Act, but the measure still faces hurdles in the Senate.
In the last Congress, the MORE Act passed the House — the first cannabis legislation to do so — but was never even considered in the then-Republican-controlled Senate, which Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has promised to rectify now that he’s in charge. The leader has teamed up with Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden of Oregon and Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey.
They’re promising to introduce their own legislation soon, which is expected to build upon the social equity provisions in the MORE Act.
“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,” Nadler is quoted in a press release. “Our federal laws must keep up with this pace.”
The bill notes that 37 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands have adopted laws allowing legal access to marijuana, mostly medicinal. While 16 states, the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands and Guam have legalized recreational cannabis for adult recreational use, with Virginia’s program set to kick off later this summer. And the one South Dakota voters passed in November remains tied up in legal battles.
All but three states have reformed their laws pertaining to cannabis despite it still being federally illegal.
Legal cannabis sales totaled $20 billion in 2020 and are projected to reach more than twice that by 2025. Enforcing cannabis prohibition laws costs taxpayers approximately $3.6 billion a year, according to the American Civil Liberties Union (or ACLU).
Besides rescinding the long-standing federal prohibition on marijuana — which would allow states to create their own legalization rules and regulations — the bill would kick-start the process of expunging the convictions of those arrested for small amounts of marijuana, Chair Nadler said.
It would also provide reinvestment grant opportunities for communities which suffered disproportionate rates of marijuana-related enforcement actions.
The previous House legislation was inspired by and built on the equity program in Oakland, Calif., which has had its own problems trying to administer this requirement.
The bill would also allow veterans to obtain medical cannabis recommendations from their VA doctors. It also would remove the threat of deportation for immigrants accused of minor marijuana infractions or who are gainfully employed in a cannabis company located in a state with legal marijuana.
“The criminalization of marijuana has been a mistake, and the racially disparate enforcement of marijuana laws has only compounded this mistake, with serious consequences, particularly for communities of color,” Nadler noted.
Ballot measures were approved by voters in several states — including deep red states like Montana, South Dakota and Mississippi — in last year’s elections.
“Indeed, the states have led the way — and continue to lead the way — on marijuana, but our federal laws have not kept pace with the obvious need for change,” Judiciary Committee Chair Nadler continued, “We need to catch up because the public supports reform and because it is the right thing to do.”
Read the bill here.