As the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement Act, or MORE Act, makes its way for a second time through the US House of Representatives, not all advocates are happy with some provisions, especially when it comes to resentencing people convicted over certain federal marijuana offenses.
Craig Cesal is a program associate at the non-profit Last Prisoner Project working to help free those locked up on marijuana-related convictions. In a letter to sponsors, Cesal writes that many people in prison for marijuana offenses “would receive no relief from their conviction at all” under the MORE Act, and some would “continue to serve life sentences for conduct which would no longer be considered illegal.”
Cesal is serving a sentence of supervised release over a 2002 federal cannabis trafficking case. Cesal repaired semi-trucks for a Florida company that also trafficked marijuana using the trucks, and though he says he never received any illegal compensation, he was convicted of conspiring to distribute and sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. He was granted clemency Jan. 20 by former President Donald J. Trump.
Three areas in the legislation’s language, Casal writes, could keep people in prison over marijuana offenses.
- It would give “discretion to the sentencing court as to whether the marijuana conviction or related conduct would be expunged.” As written, people would be eligible for expungement only if their case was non-violent, and courts frequently disagree about what constitutes a violent offense.
- It does not “provide relief for additional counts of conviction inextricably relying on the criminality of the marijuana offense.” If a person convicted on a cannabis charge was in possession of a firearm that would’ve otherwise been lawful if marijuana wasn’t illegal, that could complicate resentencing processing.
- Those “whose offense involved five or more people, which is most marijuana offenses, would be specifically exempt from relief under the MORE Act.”
The legislation would give courts the ability to make decisions on resentencing petitions, but it would not resolve cases where there are aggravating factors — such as possession of a firearm or large sums of money found at the time of an arrest — which could leave a number of federal inmates without due process, the letter states.
Advocates have criticized other elements of the legislation when it was introduced and passed in the last session, but they mostly focused on a provision added at the last minute that would have excluded people with prior marijuana convictions from operating a “cannabis enterprise” in the legal industry. That language was removed.
Advocates have also taken issue with another policy that maintains a prohibition on people who’ve been sentenced under the “kingpin” statute from being eligible for expungement, which “undermines the purpose of the bill and continues to perpetuate the War on Drugs,” the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights wrote in a recent letter to House leadership.
While the MORE Act is debated in the House, Senate leadership continues to draft a bill to end federal cannabis prohibition, which Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has repeatedly said would be introduced “soon.” Whether the Senate bill will include the same resentencing language as the MORE Act is unknown, though they are generally expected to be similar.
This piece was originally published by Marijuana Moment and has been edited or modified by The News Station.