House reintroduces bill to decriminalize cannabis and create social equity programs

After voting overwhelmingly last year to decriminalize cannabis at the federal level, congressional leaders on Friday reintroduced a bill to strike marijuana off the list of controlled substances and invest in affected communities in a way. disproportionate by the so-called drug war.

The Marijuana Reinvestment and Deregistration Act of 2021, also known as the MORE Act, would also eliminate criminal penalties, clear criminal records, and create social equity programs focused on redressing the harm done to individuals. and to communities affected by decades of prohibitions.

The bill was introduced by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler, DN.Y.

“Since I introduced the MORE law at the last convention, many states across the country, including my home state of New York, have decided to legalize marijuana,” Nadler said in a statement. “Our federal laws must keep pace.”

The bill did not advance last year in the Senate, where a related bill also died. A second Senate bill is expected to be introduced later this year with the support of Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, DN.Y., and Sen. Cory Booker, DN.J., and Ron Wyden, D- Ore.

The revised bill contains tougher social justice measures intended to combat the generational effects of the ban, including removing language that would have denied business licenses to applicants convicted of felony.

It would establish a 5% tax on retail cannabis sales that would increase to 8% over three years. Revenues would go to the Opportunities Trust Fund, which would pay for skills training, reintegration services, legal aid and health education programs for affected communities.

It would also create an Office of Cannabis Justice to oversee components of social equity, prevent the federal government from penalizing cannabis users who depend on social services, and open the door to more research opportunities.

The Small Business Administration would set up the Cannabis Restoration Program to help businesses owned and operated by “socially and economically disadvantaged people.” The SBA’s mandate would develop and implement fair cannabis licensing programs that would minimize barriers for those affected by the war on drugs.

“The intent and vision of this bill is to undo the past wrongs of drug prohibition,” said Maritza Perez, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance, a nonprofit that works on drug prohibition. drug law reform. “We hope that another successful vote in the House will continue to accelerate.”

Despite the move towards decriminalization, people of color continue to be the most affected by existing drug laws. According to a American Civil Liberties Union Report 2020, a black person is 3 times more likely to be arrested for possession of cannabis than a white person. The ACLU has estimated that enforcing cannabis ban laws costs taxpayers about $ 3.6 billion annually.

“This bill will give a lot of people a fresh start,” said Stuart Titus, CEO of cannabis company Medical Marijuana Inc.

But it could take a “Herculean effort” to move cannabis legislation forward, Titus said, adding that Democrats will need to get more Republican support if they intend to end prohibition.

The December vote marked the first time a plenary chamber of Congress has addressed the issue of the federal government’s decriminalization of cannabis. On the vote count, 222 Democrats were in favor of passing the MORE law and six were against it. Five Republicans voted in favor and 158 voted against its adoption.

Maggie Shannon / for NBC News

“It has historical implications,” Titus said. “We have a whole industry here ready to explode.”

In 2020, legal cannabis sales totaled $ 20 million and are expected to more than double by 2025, according to the bill.

For nearly a decade, the federal government has relied on a difficult truce with states choosing to carve their own cannabis laws. Currently, 17 states, two territories and Washington, DC, have legalized recreational cannabis and 36 states and two territories allow medical marijuana.

The tension between state and federal laws has contributed to the confusion over the rights of cannabis users to purchase and consume marijuana.

Narmin Jarrous, director of development at Exclusive Brands, a Michigan-based cannabis company, said her primary care doctor recently ditched her after she tested positive for marijuana. Jarrous lives with chronic pain caused by endometriosis and prefers marijuana to more severe pain management medications, such as Vicodin and Oxycodone.

“If this happens to me, I know it happens to [other] patients, ”she said. “It was such an absurd policy, in my opinion, and it shows how much work we have to do as a society.”

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