Two high-profile Democratic lawmakers on Tuesday unveiled what they describe as “one of the most comprehensive marijuana law bills ever introduced in the US Congress.”
A 5% federal cannabis tax would create an opportunity fund for communities damaged by the war on drugs.
US Rep. Jerrold Nadler of New York, chair of the House Judiciary Committee, and Sen. Kamala Harris of California—who is running for president—introduced their Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act on Tuesday.
The bill would decriminalize marijuana at the federal level by removing it from the Controlled Substances Act.
MORE Cannabis Issues Addressed
The MORE Act would also require federal courts to expunge prior marijuana-related convictions, allow prior offenders to request expungement of their criminal records and, if needed, request re-sentencing hearings.
It would also halt the denial of federal public benefits based on marijuana possession or previous pot-related convictions, while making sure those offenses “will have no adverse impact under the immigration laws.”
'We need to start regulating marijuana, and expunge marijuana convictions from the records of millions of Americans.'Sen. Kamala Harris
One standout factor of the MORE Act: It would authorize the assessment of a 5% sales tax on marijuana and marijuana products to create an Opportunity Trust Fund, which would set up grants, loans, and other programs for “socially and economically-disadvantaged” communities that have been most impacted by the war on drugs.
“We need to start regulating marijuana, and expunge marijuana convictions from the records of millions of Americans so they can get on with their lives,” Harris said in a press statement. “As marijuana becomes legal across the country, we must make sure everyone—especially communities of color that have been disproportionately impacted by the war on drugs—has a real opportunity to participate in this growing industry.”
The Conversation Has Shifted
The measure, as expected, has been hailed by a wide variety of cannabis advocacy groups.
“A strong and steadily growing majority of Americans believe it is time to end our nation’s failed experiment with cannabis prohibition,” Cannabis Trade Federation CEO Neil Levine said in a statement. “There are thousands of state-regulated cannabis businesses operating around the country, employing hundreds of thousands of workers and generating billions of dollars in tax revenue. They deserve fair treatment under the law, and that is one of the goals this legislation seeks to achieve.”
“This bill from @RepJerryNadler and @SenKamalaHarris is a HUGE deal”, tweeted Shaleen Title, an attorney who currently serves as one of five commissioners on the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission. “Community reinvestment grants, equitable licensing grants, and opportunity grants from businesses. Most comprehensive bill yet.”
Aaron Smith, Executive Director at the National Cannabis Industry Association, said the measure was a sign of how far the cannabis legalization movement has advanced. “We still have a long way to go before we see sensible cannabis policies enacted at the federal level,” he said in a statement. “But this shows that the conversation has shifted from ‘if’ to ‘how.’ We are very happy to see an increased emphasis on how to address the racially and economically disparate impact of our failed federal drug laws so that everyone has the chance to benefit from the opportunities created by the legal cannabis industry.”
Re-inventing the Wheel?
Although it bears resemblance to other, recent cannabis legalization measures in Congress, the MORE Act covers more ground.
“It looks a lot like the Marijuana Justice Act in that it de-schedules marijuana and imposes obligations on the states,” Sam Kamin, Professor at the University of Denver’s Sturm College of Law and a long-time observer of cannabis legalization policies, told Leafly. “But it goes a little further in creating a tax and a fund that will do a number of things, including, I think most controversially, creating some incentives for minority-owned cannabis businesses.”
Kamin noted the MORE Act is also more progressive than the so-called STATES Act, which calls for respecting cannabis-legal state laws without federal interference—and which was introduced by the unlikely team of Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Republican Senator Cory Gardner of Colorado.
This new measure, Kamin observed, is “Definitely coming from a social justice place. It is a pretty bold statement [by Harris] in terms of jumping into the cannabis fray. She’s been relatively quiet on that; she’s been sometimes seen as dismissive on that issue. So this does definitely put her into the mix on this issue.”
Harris Opposed Not so Long Ago
In the past, as San Francisco District Attorney and then as California’s Attorney General, Senator Harris was a vocal opponent of cannabis legalization. But over the years, Harris’ position on cannabis has evolved and made her a champion of legalization—a shift which has also brought her criticism for favoring pot legalization on purely political grounds.
“I’ve been saying for a while that you can’t get the Democratic nomination if you are neutral or lukewarm on cannabis legalization,” Kamin observed. “I can’t see into her soul and know whether this [change on cannabis] is sincere or political,” he continued. “It’s certainly a departure from her previous views on this point, but lots of people have changed their views on this point. The Left is pretty skeptical of her, particularly her record on criminal justice. And this might be her answer to the ‘Kamala Harris is a cop’ accusation.”
Change Is Coming
Given the current administration, Kamin believes the MORE Act faces, at best, an uphill battle on Capitol Hill.
However, he added, “Something is going to change at the federal level, whether it’s in this administration or the next one. And right now, we’re arguing about what shape that change will be.”