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US Congress Should End Marijuana Prohibition

Widely Supported Bill Key to Reforming Racist Policies, Investing in Communities

Thomas J. Rachko, Jr.

A bill that would end federal marijuana prohibition represents a real opportunity to address racial justice and equity in the US policing and criminal legal system.

The Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act would remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act, and begin to repair the harm marijuana prohibition has caused to people of color by establishing social equity programs to reinvest in communities. It would also provide for resentencing and expungement for those with federal marijuana convictions.

The bill was passed by the House Judiciary Committee in November 2019, and it is now up to the US House of Representatives’ leadership to schedule the bill for a vote.

The bill has bipartisan support in the House and widespread support from civil and human rights organizations. This month, members of the Marijuana Justice Coalition and over 120 organizations wrote to the US House leadership urging a vote on the bill, stating that the national discussion around unjust law enforcement, as well as Covid-19, means marijuana reform “is more relevant and more pressing than ever before.”

The bill also has support among likely voters in the 2020 US elections, according to a recent national poll, where nearly two-thirds of respondents stated that police should stop arresting people for possessing marijuana for personal use and supported passage of the MORE Act.

Human Rights Watch has long documented the devastating toll of the war on drugs and how it discriminates against people of color. In 2016, research by Human Rights Watch and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) showed that in the US, someone was arrested for drug possession for personal use every 25 seconds. Despite using drugs at similar rates as white people, Black adults were more than two-and-a-half times more likely to be arrested for possession.

About half of these arrests involve marijuana possession, for which racial disparities remain acute. An April 2020 ACLU report found that in 2018, the most recent data they analyzed, Black people were 3.64 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than white people.

Congress should advance this important piece of legislation to the House floor for a vote and pass the MORE Act.

A bill that would end federal marijuana prohibition represents a real opportunity to address racial justice and equity in the US policing and criminal legal system.

U.S. House to vote on ending federal ban on marijuana

In this March 22, 2019, file photo, Heather Randazzo, a grow employee at Compassionate Care Foundation’s medical marijuana dispensary, trims leaves off marijuana plants in the company’s grow house in Egg Harbor Township. AP

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A postponed vote on landmark legislation ending the federal ban on cannabis will take place within a week, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer announced Friday.

Hoyer, D-Md., specifically listed the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act, or MORE Act, as one of the items of business when the House returns from the Thanksgiving holiday. Lawmakers are scheduled to debate and vote on the legislation either Thursday or next Friday.

The floor vote follows referenda in New Jersey and four other states where residents voted to legalize cannabis for recreational use. A record 68% of U.S. adults in a November Gallup poll said marijuana should be legal.

“National support for federal cannabis legalization is at an all-time high and almost 99% of Americans will soon live in states with some form of legal cannabis,” said Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., founder and co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus.

“Congress must capitalize on this momentum and do our part to end the failed policy of prohibition that has resulted in a long and shameful period of selective enforcement against communities of color.”

This would be the first-ever congressional vote to remove the ban on cannabis. But the chances of it becoming law are slim as there is no indication the Senate will vote on the bill before adjourning this month.

Marijuana is currently scheduled as a Class 1 controlled substance. Ending the classification, known as descheduling, would allow states to legalize it, give banks the ability to offer credit cards and checking accounts to legal cannabis businesses, and make it easier to study any medicinal benefits of pot.

The bill also would require federal courts to expunge prior marijuana convictions, tax weed to help communities hardest hit by the war on drugs, fund job training, and provide loans to minority-owned small businesses seeking to enter the cannabis industry.

“By advancing the MORE Act, the House of Representatives sends an unmistakable signal that America is ready to close the book marijuana prohibition and end the senseless oppression and fear that this failed policy wreaks on otherwise law-abiding citizens,” said Justin Strekal, political director of NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws

“Americans are ready to responsibly legalize and regulate marijuana, and this vote shows some lawmakers are finally listening.”

A vote on the bill had been scheduled to take place before the election, but House Democratic leaders delayed it to avoid the optics of appearing to put a vote on cannabis ahead of passing a new coronavirus stimulus package.

House Democrats lost several seats on Nov. 3, though retained their majority.

U.S. House to vote on ending federal ban on marijuana In this March 22, 2019, file photo, Heather Randazzo, a grow employee at Compassionate Care Foundation’s medical marijuana dispensary, trims