The drive to legalize cannabis at the federal level continues with the reintroduction of a bill to remove marijuana from the nation’s list of controlled substances and invest in communities disproportionately impacted by the War on Drugs. The measure, the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement Act of 2021 (MORE Act), was introduced on May 28 by Rep. Jerry Nadler of New York and five of his Democratic colleagues.
Nadler, who serves as the chair of the House Judiciary Committee, originally introduced the bill last year. The measure was passed with overwhelming support in the House in December but failed to receive action in the Senate under the leadership of then-Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.
“Since I introduced the MORE Act last Congress, numerous states across the nation, including my home state of New York, have moved to legalize marijuana. Our federal laws must keep up with this pace,” Nadler said in a statement. “I’m proud to reintroduce the MORE Act to decriminalize marijuana at the federal level, remove the needless burden of marijuana convictions on so many Americans, and invest in communities that have been disproportionately harmed by the War on Drugs.”
Social Equity Key to Bill
Under the MORE Act, cannabis would be removed from the list of drugs regulated by the Controlled Substances Act, criminal penalties for federal cannabis offenses would be eliminated, and past federal cannabis convictions would be expunged. The bill also establishes a 5% percent tax on retail cannabis sales, which would climb to 8% over three years. Revenue raised by the tax would be invested in communities that were harmed under federal marijuana prohibition policies that lasted decades.
“This bill will not only put an end to harmful federal cannabis policies that have ruined countless lives, it will seek to reverse the damage by providing true equity and opportunity for those looking to access this booming industry. We are on our way toward true justice,” said Rep. Barbara Lee of California, a co-sponsor of the legislation and co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus.
An Opportunity Trust Fund created by the MORE Act would provide job training, re-entry services for formerly incarcerated individuals, and health education programs for communities impacted by the War on Drugs. In a change to the previous version of the bill called for by social equity advocates, those with prior felony convictions would no longer be barred from participation in the cannabis industry.
Democratic Rep. Hakeem Jeffries of New York said that the “failed war on drugs began almost fifty years ago when Richard Nixon declared drug abuse public enemy number one. Since then, marijuana use has been socially accepted behavior in some neighborhoods and criminal conduct in others. Too often, the dividing line between these neighborhoods has been race. The MORE Act will help right these wrongs and bring to life the principle of liberty and justice for all.”
Additionally, an Office of Cannabis Justice would be established to implement the social equity provisions of the bill, encourage cannabis research, and ensure that federal benefits and services are not denied cannabis users. The Small Business Association would be tasked with creating a Cannabis Restorative Opportunity Program to develop cannabis licensing programs that limit barriers to participation in the industry.
Amazon on Board
Following the reintroduction of the MORE Act, Amazon, the nation’s second-largest private employer, announced that it was eliminating cannabis drug testing for applicants for most of its U.S. jobs. Amazon CEO Dave Clark said in a blog post that the company would also lobby for passage of legislation to end the federal prohibition of cannabis.
“And because we know that this issue is bigger than Amazon, our public policy team will be actively supporting The Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act of 2021 (MORE Act) — federal legislation that would legalize marijuana at the federal level, expunge criminal records, and invest in impacted communities,” Clark wrote. “We hope that other employers will join us, and that policymakers will act swiftly to pass this law.”
Nadler’s bill also has the support of cannabis policy reform advocacy organizations, including the Marijuana Policy Project. Tahir Johnson, the group’s director of social equity and inclusion, commented on the impact that cannabis prohibition has had on communities of color.
“Cannabis prohibition and its ensuing over-policing, unequal enforcement, and criminalization stripped millions of Black and Latinx people of their vote, access to education, employment, and housing, creating cycles of poverty and marginalization in their communities,” Johnson said. “The MORE Act promises to address many of the harms caused by prohibition using an equity and justice-centered framework that allows the communities most harmed to access the health and economic benefits of the cannabis industry. This is the approach to legalization that our country needs.”