A bill passed Wednesday by the House Judiciary Committee would remove marijuana from the list of federally controlled substances, a landmark development reflecting Americans growing acceptance of cannabis.
The Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act would decriminalize marijuana, mandate federal courts expunge prior convictions and authorize the assessment of a 5% sales tax on marijuana and marijuana products.
The legislation also would provide funds for small business loans to benefit “socially and economically disadvantaged individuals” that own and control marijuana businesses, as well as provide services—including job training, literacy programs and substance use treatment—to those adversely affected by the “war on drugs,” according to a news release from the House Judiciary Committee.
“For too long, our federal cannabis policies have been rooted in the past, and it’s long past time to change that,” Rep. Barbara Lee, Democrat from California and co-chair of the Cannabis Caucus, said Tuesday during a press conference. “Communities of color have been left behind on the cannabis reform change. Right now, less than one fifth of the cannabis industry is owned or operated by people of color, and this has got to change.”
The House Judiciary Committee voted to approve the MORE Act by a vote of 24 to 10. Even if the legislation is voted on and passed in the House of Representatives, it is expected to face obstacles in the Republican-controlled Senate. Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) is a strong advocate of hemp but not marijuana.
Rep. Ken Buck, Republican from Colorado, doubted a majority of Republicans would support the bill.
“It is even less likely that the Senate would take it up,” he said Wednesday, CNBC reported. “Therefore, I would just suggest that we deal with other bills that we can get a much larger bipartisan support from.”
Sen. Kamala Harris, Democrat from California and a presidential candidate, introduced companion legislation to the MORE Act in the Senate.
"As more states legalize marijuana, millions of Americans with marijuana-related convictions continue to face overwhelming barriers to jobs, education, and housing," she said in a statement. "That is why we must act to remove the burden of marijuana convictions and make sure these individuals have the support needed to move forward."
Under the MORE Act, states would retain authority to regulate use of marijuana and maintain criminal prohibitions, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-New York) said. He noted 33 states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical cannabis, while 11 states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for adult recreational use..
“While marijuana is a multi-billion dollar industry, there are people sitting in prisons today for marijuana offenses,” Nadler said during Tuesday’s press conference. “Those who have served time for marijuana convictions often face second-class citizenship when they reenter society. They are denied the right to vote. They struggle to find meaningful work. And they have problems accessing quality housing.”
Rep. Earl Blumenauer, Democrat from Oregon and co-chair of the Cannabis Caucus who suggested he’s been working on cannabis reform since 1973, said, “We have problems in terms of cannabis law and they are because the federal government is out of step with reality and with the public.”
Erik Altieri, executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), described Wednesday’s vote as a “truly historic moment in our nation’s political history.”
“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, notably on communities of color and other already marginalized groups,” Altieri said in a statement. “Opposition to our failed war on marijuana has reached a boiling point with over two-thirds of all Americans, including majorities of all political persuasions, now supporting legalization. Congress should respect the will of the people and promptly approve the MORE Act and close this dark chapter of failed public policy.”