A coalition of civil rights and drug policy reform groups—including the ACLU, Human Rights Watch, Drug Policy Alliance and NORML—is circulating a letter to members of Congress, imploring them to sign onto a comprehensive marijuana legalization bill that places an emphasis on restorative justice.
Collectively known as the Marijuana Justice Coalition (MJC), the organizations said their request is especially urgent in light of the coronavirus pandemic and national protests over police brutality. Given these problems, “marijuana reform as a modest first step at chipping away at the war on drugs is more relevant and more pressing than ever before,” they wrote.
The Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment, and Expungement (MORE) Act from Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) “remains the most effective and equitable way forward,” the letter states.
“In the face of COVID-19, the MORE Act is needed now more than ever before,” the coalition, which also includes the Center for American Progress, Leadership Council on Civil and Human Rights and United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, wrote.
“Looking towards long-term economic recovery, we must remove barriers to employment for those who have lost jobs, create new businesses and employment opportunities to help replace those that have disappeared and that will not be coming back, and to raise billions of dollars in new tax revenue to off-set the devastating economic losses to state and local governments,” they said.
The MJC members argued that the MORE Act would achieve that, partly through a five percent tax on cannabis sales at the manufacturer level. The bill “will ensure that the economic recovery effort is equitable and just,” they wrote.
The legislation was approved by the Judiciary Committee last year, and it’s been referred to several other committees that have yet to act on it and clear a path to the House floor. So far, it has amassed 76 cosponsors since its introduction.
Beyond the economic benefits of the reform, MJC said “federal descheduling and expungement will drastically reduce the burden of marijuana charges and arrests in the criminal justice system.”
“This would help begin the long overdue reversal of mass incarceration in the U.S.—which is more timely than ever in the times of mass mobilizations for police reform and in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic ravaging jails and prisons,” the letter states. “The MORE Act focuses on creating community infrastructure and supports that diminish contact with the criminal justice system.”
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 clearance due to its use.
“We must take every possible action to reduce rates of arrests and incarceration in order to limit the spread of the virus and bring long overdue justice to communities plagued by marijuana overenforcement and racially biased policing,” it continues. “The seismic circumstances brought by 2020 have demonstrated the pressing need for a legal marijuana industry grounded in equity, justice, and commonsense.”
Other MJC members signing the new letter include the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, National Association of Social Workers and Students for Sensible Drug Policy.
Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) made a similar call last month for the MORE Act’s passage as part of the congressional conversation over policing reform.
He and Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) also led a “Dear Colleague” letter that month, asking members to “consider another crucial issue towards criminal justice reform: eliminating the failed prohibition on cannabis.”
Read MJC’s letter to members of Congress on the MORE Act below:
Photo courtesy of Brian Shamblen.