And Congress Is Only A Couple Of Decades Late
By the end of the week the House will will have voted on-- and passed-- Jerry Nadler's Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, which passed (228-164) in the last session, just to be derailed by Mitch McConnell in the Senate, when the GOP controlled that chamber. Only 5 Republicans voted in favor and one of them, Don Young (R-AK), died last week.
On Thursday, the Judiciary Committee released a 483-page report that includes Democratic arguments for passage and Republican arguments against passage.
Nadler’s MORE Act would deschedule marijuana by removing it from the list of federally banned drugs under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA). However, it would not require states to legalize cannabis and would maintain a level of regulatory discretion up to states.
Marijuana products would be subject to a federal excise tax, starting at five percent for the first two years after enactment and rising to eight percent by the fifth year of implementation.
Nobody could be denied federal public benefits based solely on the use or possession of marijuana or past juvenile conviction for a cannabis offense. Federal agencies couldn’t use “past or present cannabis or marijuana use as criteria for granting, denying, or rescinding a security clearance.”
People could not be penalized under federal immigration laws for any cannabis related activity or conviction, whether it occurred before or after the enactment of the legalization legislation.
The bill creates a process for expungements of non-violent federal marijuana convictions.
Tax revenue from cannabis sales would be placed in a new “Opportunity Trust Fund.” Half of those tax dollars would support a “Community Reinvestment Grant Program” under the Justice Department, 10 percent would support substance misuse treatment programs, 40 percent would go to the federal Small Business Administration (SBA) to support implementation and a newly created equitable licensing grant program.
The Community Reinvestment Grant Program would “fund eligible non-profit community organizations to provide a variety of services for individuals adversely impacted by the War on Drugs…to include job training, reentry services, legal aid for civil and criminal cases (including for expungement of cannabis convictions), among others.”
The program would further support funding for substance misuse treatment for people from communities disproportionately impacted by drug criminalization. Those funds would be available for programs offering services to people with substance misuse disorders for any drug, not just cannabis.
While the bill wouldn’t force states to adopt legalization, it would create incentives to promote equity. For example, SBA would facilitate a program to providing licensing grants to states and localities that have moved to expunge records for people with prior marijuana convictions or “taken steps to eliminate violations or other penalties for persons still under State or local criminal supervision for a cannabis-related offense or violation for conduct now lawful under State or local law.”
The bill’s proposed Cannabis Restorative Opportunity Program would provide funds “for loans to assist small business concerns that are owned and controlled by individuals adversely impacted by the War on Drugs in eligible States and localities.”
The comptroller general, in consultation with the head of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), would be required to carry out a study on the demographics of people who have faced federal marijuana convictions, “including information about the age, race, ethnicity, sex, and gender identity.”
The departments of treasury, justice and the SBA would need to “issue or amend any rules, standard operating procedures, and other legal or policy guidance necessary to carry out implementation of the MORE Act” within one year of its enactment.
Marijuana producers and importers would also need to obtain a federal permit. And they would be subject to a $1,000 per year federal tax as well for each premise they operate.
The bill would impose certain packaging and labeling requirements.
It also prescribes penalties for unlawful conduct such as illegal, unlicensed production or importation of cannabis products.
The Treasury secretary would be required to carry out a study “on the characteristics of the cannabis industry, with recommendations to improve the regulation of the industry and related taxes.”
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) would be required to “regularly compile, maintain, and make public data on the demographics” of marijuana business owners and workers.
Workers in “safety sensitive” positions, such as those regulated by the Department of Transportation, could continue to be drug tested for THC and face penalties for unauthorized use. Federal workers would also continue to be subject to existing drug testing policies.
Schumer says he plans to bring the vote to the floor soon and with both Manchin and the 10 Republicans who are backing it, he can overcome McConnell's filibuster and get it passed. After all 91% of American adults believe marijuana should be decriminalized, 60% for medical and recreational use and 31% for medical use only. Only 8% of adults (12% of Republicans) say marijuana should be illegal, a number that decreases every year as old conservatives died off. Oregon progressive Matt West told us that "this is a strong move forward. Criminalization has a long and dark history steeped in racism. Oregon has led the way in the fight for decriminalization, but the time is now for a federal bill-- and such bill must include a pathway to restorative justice. Nonviolent offenders need to be given clemency. Former folks unjustly punished need to be given a head start in licensure, similar to New York's law, if we are to have true justice."
Ally Dalsimer, a progressive environmental expert running for Congress in the northern Virginia DC suburbs noted today that "Marijuana legalization is long overdue in this country. We spend $20 billion every year on enforcing marijuana laws, and it costs Virginians over $20,000 a year to incarcerate a single person for marijuana. Marijuana has been clinically proven to be less damaging than alcohol or tobacco, and to have medicinal benefits for physical and mental health. Legalization is a major deal, and we need to make sure that when it comes, marijuana production is not taken over by big agro or big pharma, and remains in the hands of small, and especially organic farmers."
On the other side of the country, Jason Call couldn't agree more. "This might be the best thing that our government gets done this year. I’ve been a cannabis user and legalization advocate for over 30 years. Now we need to take the next steps and release anyone incarcerated for nonviolent drug offenses-- that includes growing, selling, and using marijuana-- and expunge those records. Fingers crossed this passes without a hitch. We also need to ensure that there are no marijuana laws beyond DUI. People should be able to grow their own without fear of penalty. No more cannabis prohibition!"
San Fernando Valley activist and congressional candidate Shervin Aazami told me he's "cautiously optimistic that Congress will finally act on marijuana legalization. Frankly, I’ve been very disappointed by the fact that Biden, who campaigned on criminal justice reform, has yet to grant clemency to a single person held in federal prison for a marijuana conviction. This morning I tweeted about my desire that Biden include legalization in his budget request to Congress. The racist and classist War on Drugs-- which Biden supercharged as one of the orchestrators of the disastrous 1994 crime bills-- is among the biggest policy blunders in U.S. history. Delivering on legal weed-- which must include expungement of prior criminal records and reparations to Black and brown communities-- would bring us closer to rectifying the institutional harm inflicted on low-income communities of color through decades of criminalization. Undoubtedly, it would also be a very powerful messaging tool during what will likely be a tough midterm for Democrats. There’s really zero excuse for not getting this done."
Georgia congressional candidate and progressive former state Senator Vincent Fort, who is running for an inner suburban Atlanta district held by a useless Blue Dog, David Scott. "The decriminalization/legalization of marijuana is very important in the movement for criminal justice reform. The criminalization of marijuana is used to arrest and imprison African-Americans disproportionately. African-Americans are arrested 4 times more than whites for marijuana use. This is true even though whites use weed nearly as much as African-Americans. I have supported decriminalization for a long time. I worked hard in 2017 to get the city of Atlanta to decriminalize."
West Side congressional candidate Daniel Lee is the mayor of Culver City. "Legalizing marijuana (and expunging the records of those incarcerated for marijuana possession or sale)," he told me, "is a first step towards reparations. Even though Black and White people use marijuana and more or less the same levels Black people are anywhere from 3-6 times more likely to be arrested for the offense. Additionally labeling marijuana as a schedule 1 drug is ludicrous and hamstrings the ability of medical researchers and practitioners to properly test the efficacy of of THC and CBD use as a means to address and treat chronic pain and cancer. Bring this to the floor in the House and finally end the reefer madness!"
We're at the very end of our vetting process for Joaquin Vazquez, the progressive taking on corrupt do-nothing reactionary Juan Vargas in the San Diego area. We'll be adding him to our main congressional page soon, but meanwhile, you can contribute to her campaign on our California ActBlue page. "Legalizing marijuana," he told us today, "is the first major step that we must take as a nation to start the healing process for communities, especially of color, who have been impacted by the false war on drugs. Everything criminal justice reform related is tied to this crucial bill. The failures of the current criminal justice system enable prison overcrowding, laws like the criminalization of marijuana are a major reason. The system is infected by systemic racism and laws like these that place a disproportionately higher number of black and brown people behind bars. It is no secret that most people who have been incarcerated come from disadvantaged and underrepresented communities of color. It's time to put an end to it. I support the legalization of marijuana, as it is a crucial step to stop the school to prison pipeline, and stop letting private prison corporations profit out of this unjust system. Additionally, money generated from this industry will be of much needed help once it starts flowing into communities to fund schools, clinics, and job training programs, rather than incarcerating people for profit. Lastly, preventing people from voting because of felony convictions that stemmed initially from marijuana related offenses has been a disgraceful voter suppression tactic that I look forward to seeing end. With the vast support for this bill, I stand hopeful that Congress will do the right thing."
Kylie Taitano is another progressive running in the San Diego area-- and also against a corrupt conservative Democrat (Scott Peters). "I'm running," she told me today, "because I know that when the community prospers, we all prosper, and federally legalizing marijuana will allow our country to thrive. Not only will legalization help us make significant progress in our fight to reform our criminal justice system, but legalization also provides powerful support to the economy. The 37 states that have legalized marijuana in some form have generated 321,000 full-time jobs in the cannabis industry. Imagine how many more jobs will be created if we legalized cannabis nationally, who doesn't want that?