Is marijuana legalization about to go federal? Congressional leaders took the massive and potentially historic first step on Friday, when they introduced the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment, and Expungement Act of 2021, or “The MORE Act of 2021”.
The stated purpose of the MORE Act of 2021: “To decriminalize and deschedule cannabis, to provide for reinvestment in certain persons adversely impacted by the War on Drugs, to provide for expungement of certain cannabis offenses, and for other purposes.”
The legislation was brought by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler, the longtime Democrat from New York, along with members of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus.
The significance of the proposal can’t be overstated. If it passed, it would end the federal prohibition on marijuana—something a growing number of cities and states across the country have already done.
“Since I introduced the MORE Act last Congress, numerous states across the nation, including my home state of New York, have moved to legalize marijuana. Our federal laws must keep up with this pace,” Nadler said in a statement. “I’m proud to reintroduce the MORE Act to decriminalize marijuana at the federal level, remove the needless burden of marijuana convictions on so many Americans, and invest in communities that have been disproportionately harmed by the War on Drugs.”
Why The MORE Act of 2021 Is Crucial
The MORE Act of 2021 places heavy emphasis on remedying the racial inequities of the War on Drugs, with the bill noting that “communities that have been most harmed by cannabis prohibition are benefiting the least from the legal marijuana marketplace,” and that “legacy of racial and ethnic injustices, compounded by the disproportionate collateral consequences of 80 years of cannabis prohibition enforcement, now limits participation in the industry.”
Along with removing marijuana from the federal Controlled Substances Act, the bill requires “federal courts to expunge prior convictions, allows prior offenders to request expungement, and requires courts, on motion, to conduct re-sentencing hearings for those still under supervision.”
The MORE Act of 2021 also authorizes “the assessment of a 5% sales tax on marijuana and marijuana products to create an Opportunity Trust Fund,” which includes three grant programs focused on providing training to “individuals most adversely impacted by the War on Drugs,” “funds for loans to assist small businesses in the marijuana industry that are owned and controlled by socially and economically disadvantaged individuals,” and “funds for programs that minimize barriers to marijuana licensing and employment for the individuals most adversely impacted by the War on Drugs.”
From the sweeping marijuana reforms implemented on the state level, to public polling showing wide majorities in support of legalization, there is plenty of reason to feel bullish on the bill’s prospects.
There is also, crucially, political will to pass the law on Capitol Hill. In April, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer made it clear that he and his fellow Democrats were eager to press forward on legalization—even though President Joe Biden has thus far shown reluctance to get behind the policy.
“We will move forward,” Schumer said at the time. “[Biden] said he’s studying the issue, so [I] obviously want to give him a little time to study it. I want to make my arguments to him, as many other advocates will. But at some point we’re going to move forward, period.”
Schumer said his own evolution on the issue was shaped by the changes made at the state level.
“In 2018, I was the first member of the Democratic leadership to come out in support of ending the federal prohibition. I’m sure you ask, “Well what changed?” Well, my thinking evolved. When a few of the early states—Oregon and Colorado—wanted to legalize, all the opponents talked about the parade of horribles: Crime would go up. Drug use would go up. Everything bad would happen,” Schumer said.
“The legalization of states worked out remarkably well. They were a great success. The parade of horribles never came about, and people got more freedom. And people in those states seem very happy.”