A coalition of major drug policy and civil rights organization is urging congressional leadership to hold a House floor vote on a comprehensive marijuana legalization bill by the end of next month.
In a letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD), more than 120 groups—including the American Civil Liberties Union, NAACP, Human Rights Watch, Drug Policy Alliance and Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights—said it’s imperative to hold the vote on the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act.
They said leadership should “swiftly advance this comprehensive marijuana justice policy that addresses criminal justice reform, racial justice, and equity” and noted that the Judiciary Committee approved the legislation last year. The bill currently has 83 cosponsors, including two who signed on this week.
BREAKING: We urge @SpeakerPelosi and @LeaderHoyer to schedule a September floor vote on the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, which addresses criminal justice reform, racial justice & equity.
— The Leadership Conference (@civilrightsorg) August 13, 2020
“In the face of the evolving COVID-19 pandemic and a growing national dialogue on unjust law enforcement practices, marijuana reform as a modest first step at chipping away at the War on Drugs is more relevant and more pressing than ever before,” the groups, which also include the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, National Association of Social Workers and National Organization for Women, wrote. “The MORE Act remains the most effective and equitable way forward.”
“We strongly urge House leadership to support the passage of this bill this Congress and schedule the bill for a vote in September,” they said.
A key committee chairman’s staffer and several advocates told Marijuana Moment earlier this month that there are indeed plans in the works to get the bill to the floor in September, though nothing has yet been publicly confirmed by leadership.
“Mass criminalization, racially biased policing, and over-enforcement of drug law violations have devastated the social and economic fabrics of communities of color, while also tearing apart the lives of millions of individuals and families. The continued enforcement of marijuana prohibition laws results in over 600,000 arrests annually, disproportionately impacting people of color. This results in family separation when a jail or prison sentence is involved. This also means that these individuals will be marked with a drug conviction record that will affect their ability to work, find housing, and otherwise provide for their families. Further, marijuana criminalization continues to be a driver of family separation in the immigration system.”
The letter—which was also signed by the Center for Disability Rights, LatinoJustice PRLDEF, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Matthew Shepard Foundation and several chapters of NORML and Students for Sensible Drug Policy—says the MORE Act “addresses the collateral consequences of federal marijuana criminalization and takes steps to ensure the legal marketplace is diverse and inclusive of individuals most adversely impacted by prohibition.”
The MORE Act would federally deschedule cannabis, expunge the records of those with prior marijuana convictions and impose a federal five percent tax on sales, revenue from which would be reinvested in communities most impacted by the drug war.
It would also create a pathway for resentencing for those incarcerated for marijuana offenses, as well as protect immigrants from being denied citizenship over cannabis and prevent federal agencies from denying public benefits or security clearances due to its use.
“The MORE Act is needed now more than ever before. It can help alleviate public health challenges caused by COVID-19 in jails and prisons by reducing the number of people who are incarcerated,” the groups wrote to Pelosi and Hoyer. “Passage of the bill will also help ameliorate economic hardship caused by COVID-19 as the bill will minimize barriers to employment resulting from prior criminal history and will help generate hundreds of thousands of new jobs.”
“Additionally, ending the federal criminalization of marijuana will allow state marijuana regulatory programs to flourish, generating crucial new revenue for states and localities,” the letter states.
Read the letter from advocacy groups asking for a vote on the marijuana bill below:
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.