A bipartisan coalition of House lawmakers on Wednesday sent a letter to congressional leadership, demanding that a bill to federally legalize marijuana be “expeditiously” taken up by Congress.
The letter, led by Rep. Marilyn Strickland (D-WA), urges action on the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act—a bill sponsored by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) that cleared the House in a historic first in 2020 and has since passed the sponsor’s panel again this session but has not yet been scheduled for floor consideration.
The legislators are also making the request on broad marijuana reform as the House is set this week to take up a more incremental proposal again to protect banks that work with state-legal cannabis businesses after it’s already cleared the chamber five times in some form.
Advocates have been eager to see the comprehensive MORE Act reconsidered on the floor in the new session, especially with Democrats now in control of both chambers as well as the White House.
To create a society that is just & secure, we must restore the lives of those convicted on marijuana-related charges.
— Congresswoman Marilyn Strickland (@RepStricklandWA) February 2, 2022
The lawmakers said that they remain “disheartened” that the Senate didn’t advance the MORE Act after it cleared the House, but they’re “optimistic that the bill’s re-introduction this Congress indicates progress for descheduling marijuana.”
Signatories said that the MORE Act “is foundational in righting systemic injustices and removing barriers for families and individuals nationwide” and so it should be “expeditiously considered by the House and Senate.”
The letter describes the contents of the MORE Act, its focus on promoting social equity in the industry, racial disparities in marijuana arrests and the long-term consequences of having a cannabis conviction on a person’s record.
Beyond removing marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act, the legislation would make it so cannabis would be federally taxed at five percent for the first two years after implementation and then increased by one percent each year until reaching eight percent. After five years, taxes would be applied to marijuana products based on weight rather than price.
The bill 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.
A new Cannabis Justice Office under the Justice Department would be responsible for distributing funds providing loans for small cannabis businesses owned and controlled by socially and economically disadvantaged individuals. The bill also seeks to minimize barriers to licensing and employment in the legal industry.
It would also establish a Community Reinvestment Grant Program. Tax dollars appropriated to that program would go to job training, legal aid for criminal and civil cases such as those concerning marijuana-related expungements, literacy programs and youth recreation and mentoring services, among other programs.
“The MORE Act removes barriers for families to seek out economic opportunity and provides tools to help those who have been harmed by the system to achieve these goals. This is the will of the American people, and it is time we act on it,” the new letter says. “As Congressman Nadler recently reintroduced the MORE Act, I urge you to bring the bill forward so that we may see timely consideration and passage of this landmark legislation to positively impact American families.”
Beside Strickland, signatories of the letter are: Reps. Nikema Williams (D-GA), Matt Gaetz (R-FL), Marie Newman (D-IL), Ted Lieu (D-CA), Dina Titus (D-NV), Dean Phillips (D-MN), Salud Carbajal (D-CA), Lou Correa (D-CA), Angie Craig (D-MN) and Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ).
“To create a society that is just and secure, we must restore the lives of those convicted on marijuana-related charges,” Strickland said in a press release. “Cannabis being listed under Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act has impacted our local and Tribal businesses, families, communities of color, and countless residents across the South Sound. It is time for Congress to decriminalize marijuana by passing the bipartisan MORE Act to promote racial justice, spur economic growth, and protect retailers and their employees.”
Meanwhile, advocates are also anticipating the formal introduction of a separate Senate legalization bill behind shepherded by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and colleagues.
Schumer recently held a meeting with a variety of marijuana reform and other advocacy groups to discuss social equity issues and said, again, that the bill will be filed “soon,” and that will be quickly followed by committee hearings.
The legislation would remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), allow people with cannabis convictions to have their records expunged and create a federal tax on marijuana with the revenue going to support community reinvestment and other programs
In November, several Republican members of Congress also introduced a bill to federally legalize and tax marijuana as an alternative to pending far-reaching Democratic-led reform proposals and scaled-down GOP cannabis descheduling legislation.
Read the letter to congressional leaders on advancing the MORE Act below:
Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.