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Leading Civil Rights Group Calls On Lawmakers To Support Comprehensive Marijuana Legalization Bill

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It’s been about two weeks since the House of Representatives passed bipartisan marijuana banking legislation—and advocacy groups are fired up about moving on to more comprehensive reform.

The Leadership Conference on Civil & Human Rights, a coalition made up of more than 200 national organizations, sent a letter on Tuesday imploring lawmakers to cosponsor a bill to federally deschedule cannabis and promote social equity.

That legislation—the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act—is being sponsored by Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY).

Several civil rights groups, including the Leadership Conference, ACLU and the Drug Policy Alliance, hoped that the MORE Act would be taken up by the chamber before it approved the banking bill, which protects financial institutions that service cannabis businesses from being penalized by federal regulators. After the vote was announced last month, the organizations wrote a letter urging a delay until broader reform advanced.

That didn’t pan out, however, and so now there are high expectations that Democratic congressional leadership will make good on pledges to push ahead with more far-reaching cannabis legislation.

The Leadership Conference said in its new letter to House lawmakers that the banking legislation is “an incremental step toward rolling back the federal war on marijuana” and its passage “signals a positive shift in House members’ attitudes toward marijuana.” That said, “it lacks provisions to help communities that have been historically and disproportionately devastated by United States’ punitive drug laws.”

“The war on marijuana has been a war on people, disproportionately Latinx and African American communities, veterans, noncitizens, and low-income individuals and families,” Vanita Gupta, the group’s president and CEO, wrote. “It would be extremely disappointing for the only marijuana reform that passes the House this Congress to be one that benefits the industry and leaves behind communities still dealing with the devastating impact of federal prohibition.”

The MORE Act represents an ideal piece of marijuana reform legislation, the Leadership Conference said, because it not only includes the critical policy change of removing cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act but also contains provisions that would directly benefit communities that have been disproportionately impacted by prohibition.

That includes expungements for prior cannabis convictions, resentencing for offenders, protecting people from losing public benefits over marijuana, ensuring that cannabis isn’t used as the basis for deportations and establishing a five percent tax on marijuana sales that would fund grants aimed as lifting up disadvantaged communities.

The Leadership Council cited statements from Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MA), Financial Services Committee Chairwoman Maxine Waters (D-CA) and Rules Committee Chairman Jim McGovern (D-MA) that were issued around the time of the banking vote in support of expeditiously advancing the MORE Act.

Nadler also said that he plans to schedule a vote on the bill in his panel soon.

“We strongly urge you to join Chairman Nadler and other congressional leaders as a co-sponsor of the MORE Act and to be a part of this historic opportunity to address the decades of harm faced by communities of color and low-income communities due to failed marijuana policies,” the organization wrote to lawmakers.

More than 100 civil rights organizations, including the NAACP, ACLU and Human Rights Watch, previously insisted that Congress pass the MORE Act in a separate letter released in August. That came one month after several of the signatory groups formed the Marijuana Justice Coalition, which issued a statement of principles stating that “any legislation that moves forward in Congress should be comprehensive.”

Read the Leadership Conference’s full letter on the MORE Act below:

Co Sponsor MORE Act 10.8.19 by Marijuana Moment on Scribd

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Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.

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