DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA: House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) delivered the following opening remarks during the markup of H.R. 3884, the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act of 2019:
“H.R. 3884, the ‘Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act of 2019,’ or the ‘MORE Act of 2019.’ This bill would make three important changes to federal law. It would:
(1) remove marijuana, or cannabis, from the list of federally controlled substances;
(2) authorize the provision of resources, funded by an excise tax on marijuana products, to address the needs of communities that have been most seriously impacted by the War on Drugs, including increasing the participation of minority communities in the burgeoning cannabis market; and
(3) provide for the expungement of federal marijuana convictions and arrests.
“These steps are long overdue. For far too long, we have treated marijuana as a criminal justice problem instead of a matter of personal choice and public health. Whatever one’s views on the use of marijuana for recreational or medicinal purposes, arresting, prosecuting, and incarcerating users at the federal level is unwise and unjust.
“This issue is not new to Congress. There have been many Members who have introduced bills upon which provisions in this bill are based. Representative Barbara Lee has sponsored bills that are the foundation of key provisions of the MORE Act, and I thank her for her longstanding leadership on this issue.
“Federal action on this issue would follow growing recognition in the states that the status quo is unacceptable. Despite the federal government’s continuing criminalization of marijuana, 33 states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical cannabis. Eleven states and the District of Columbia have legalized cannabis for adult recreational use.
“I have long believed that the criminalization of marijuana has been a mistake, and the racially disparate enforcement of marijuana laws has only compounded this mistake, with serious consequences, particularly for minority communities.
“Marijuana is one of the oldest agricultural commodities not grown for food, and it has been used medicinally all over the world since at least 2700 B.C., but its criminalization is a relatively recent phenomenon.
“The use of marijuana, which most likely originated in Asia, later spread to Europe, and made its way to the Americas when the Jamestown settlers brought it with them across the Atlantic. The cannabis plant has been widely grown in the United States and was used as a component in fabrics during the middle of the 19th century. During that time period, cannabis was also listed in the United States Pharmacopeia as a treatment for a multitude of ailments, including muscle spasms, headaches, cramps, asthma, and diabetes.
“It was only in the early part of the 20th century that marijuana began to be criminalized in the United States—mainly because of misinformation and hysteria, based at least in part on racially-biased stereotypes connecting marijuana use and minorities, particularly African-Americans and Latinos. In 1970, when President Nixon announced the War on Drugs and signed the Controlled Substances Act into law, the federal government placed marijuana on Schedule I, where—unfairly and unjustifiably—it has remained ever since.
“As a consequence, thousands of individuals—overwhelmingly people of color—have been subjected, by the federal government, to unjust prison sentences for marijuana offenses. This needs to stop.That is why we are taking action today.
“The MORE Act would remove marijuana from Schedule I and, as a result, would decriminalize it at the federal level, leaving it to states to regulate marijuana as they may choose. Removing marijuana from the federal list of controlled substances is especially just because the same racial animus motivating the enactment of marijuana laws also led to racially disparate enforcement of such laws, which has had a substantial, negative impact on minority communities. In fact, nationwide, the communities that have been most harmed by marijuana enforcement benefit the least from the legal marijuana marketplace.
“The MORE Act would address some of these negative impacts, by establishing an Opportunity Trust Fund within the Department of the Treasury to fund programs within the Department of Justice and the Small Business Administration to empower communities of color and those most adversely impacted by the War on Drugs.
“These programs would provide services to individuals—including job training, reentry services and substance use treatment—would provide funds for loans to assist small businesses that are owned and controlled by socially and economically disadvantaged individuals, and would provide resources for programs that minimize barriers to marijuana licensing and employment for individuals most adversely impacted by the War on Drugs.
“The collateral consequences of a conviction for marijuana possession—and even sometimes for a mere arrest—can be devastating.
“For those saddled with a criminal conviction, it can be difficult or impossible to vote, to obtain educational loans, to get a job, to maintain a professional license, to secure housing, to receive government assistance, or even to adopt a child.
“These exclusions create an often-permanent second-class status for millions of Americans. This is unacceptable and counterproductive, especially in light of the disproportionate impact that enforcement of marijuana laws has had on communities of color. The MORE Act recognizes this and addresses these harmful effects by expunging and sealing federal convictions and arrests for marijuana offenses.
“It is not surprising that over the past two decades, public support for legalizing marijuana has surged. In the most recent Pew Research Center poll—which was released just last week—67 percent of Americans now back marijuana legalization, up from 62 percent in Pew’s 2018 poll.
“States have led the way—and continue to lead the way—but our federal laws have not kept pace with the obvious need for change. We need to catch up because of public support and because it is the right thing to do.
“In my view, applying criminal penalties, with their attendant collateral consequences for marijuana offenses is unjust and harmful to our society. The MORE Act comprehensively addresses this injustice, and I urge all of my colleagues to support this bill today.”