Representatives Nadler, Blumenauer, Lee, Jackson Lee, Jeffries, & Velázquez Reintroduce Comprehensive Marijuana Reform Legislation

The MORE Act decriminalizes marijuana federally, invests in communities disproportionately harmed by the War on Drugs

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA: House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), along with Representatives Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) and Nydia Velázquez (D-NY) reintroduced the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, one of the most comprehensive marijuana reform bills ever introduced in the U.S. Congress.

“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,” said Chairman Nadler. “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. I want to thank my colleagues, Representatives Barbara Lee and Earl Blumenauer, Co-Chairs of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, as well Representatives Sheila Jackson Lee, Hakeem Jeffries, and Nydia Velázquez for their contributions to this legislation, and I look forward to our continued partnership as we work to get this legislation signed into law.”

“Last year, we saw more progress toward cannabis legalization than ever before. This has been driven by unprecedented reforms at the state level. Now, Congress must deal with the problems created by the failed federal policy of prohibition,” said Rep. Blumenauer, founder and co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus. “With a strong base of support in the House and in the Senate, the table is set. It’s past time that we stop federal interference with cannabis banking and research, as well as the terrible pattern of selective enforcement that has devastated communities of color. The MORE Act will help address all of these problems and more.”

“During the last year, people across the country have seen how injustice impacts communities of color—from police brutality to the COVID-19 pandemic. The War on Drugs is no exception. We must deliver justice to those most impacted by America’s racist and discriminatory cannabis laws,” said Rep. Lee, co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus. “I’m proud to be working alongside Chairman Nadler and my Congressional Cannabis Caucus co-chair, Congressman Blumenauer, to reintroduce the MORE Act, which includes my bill—the Marijuana Justice Act—to bring restorative justice to communities of color impacted most. This bill will not only put an end to harmful federal cannabis policies that have ruined countless lives, it will seek to reverse the damage by providing true equity and opportunity for those looking to access this booming industry. We are on our way toward true justice.”

“The MORE Act would not only decriminalize marijuana federally, but also take steps to address the harmful impacts of federal prohibition, particularly on communities of color,” said Rep. Jackson Lee, Chair of the Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security.  “We need to pass the MORE Act as an important component of a broader effort to reform our drug laws, which disproportionately harm racial minorities and fuel mass incarceration. That is why I am also working to advance additional legislation to achieve comprehensive reform of our criminal justice system.”

“The failed war on drugs began almost fifty years ago when Richard Nixon declared drug abuse public enemy number one,” said Rep. Jeffries. “Since then, marijuana use has been socially accepted behavior in some neighborhoods and criminal conduct in others. Too often, the dividing line between these neighborhoods has been race. The MORE Act will help right these wrongs and bring to life the principle of liberty and justice for all.”

“For too long, our communities of color have been over-policed by racially biased practices that have led to a disproportionate amount of unjust arrests for low-level marijuana possession,” said Rep. Velázquez. “I am proud to co-sponsor the MORE Act because it will restore justice to our most marginalized communities, and it will boost our economy.”

Following efforts led by states across the nation, the MORE Act decriminalizes marijuana at the federal level. The bill also aims to correct the historical injustices of failed drug policies that have disproportionately impacted communities of color and low-income communities by requiring resentencing and expungement of prior convictions. This will create new opportunities for individuals as they work to advance their careers, education, and overall quality of life. The MORE Act also ensures that all benefits in the law are available to juvenile offenders.

The MORE Act:

  • Decriminalizes marijuana at the federal level by removing the substance from the Controlled Substances Act. This applies retroactively to prior and pending convictions, and enables states to set their own policy.
  • 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.
  • Authorizes the assessment of a 5% sales tax on marijuana and marijuana products to create an Opportunity Trust Fund, which includes three grant programs:
    • The Community Reinvestment Grant Program: Provides services to the individuals most adversely impacted by the War on Drugs, including job training, re-entry services, legal aid, literacy programs, youth recreation, mentoring, and substance use treatment.
    • The Cannabis Opportunity Grant Program: Provides funds for loans to assist small businesses in the marijuana industry that are owned and controlled by socially and economically disadvantaged individuals.
    • The Equitable Licensing Grant Program: Provides funds for programs that minimize barriers to marijuana licensing and employment for the individuals most adversely impacted by the War on Drugs.
  • Opens up Small Business Administration funding for legitimate cannabis-related businesses and service providers.
  • Provides non-discrimination protections for marijuana use or possession, and for prior convictions for a marijuana offense:
    • Prohibits the denial of any federal public benefit (including housing) based on the use or possession of marijuana, or prior conviction for a marijuana offense.
    • Provides that the use or possession of marijuana, or prior conviction for a marijuana offense, will have no adverse impact under the immigration laws.
  • Requires the Bureau of Labor Statistics to collect data on the demographics of the industry to ensure people of color and those who are economically disadvantaged are participating in the industry.

The MORE Act has the support of a broad coalition of civil rights, criminal justice, drug policy, and immigration groups, including: the Drug Policy Alliance, Center for American Progress,  ACLU, Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP), Human Rights Watch, Immigrant Legal Resource Center, Law Enforcement Action Partnership, Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, NORML, Sentencing Project, Students for Sensible Drug Policy, UndocuBlack Network, and Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA)

In the 116th Congress, Chairman Nadler led the House of Representatives in passing the MORE Act by a bipartisan vote of 228 to 164.

To view the text of the MORE Actclick here.

Congressman Blumenauer Lauds House Passage of Federal Legislation to Give Cannabis Businesses Access to Banking Services

Under SAFE Banking Act, cannabis businesses would not have to operate in cash, which has made Portland-area stores and workers a target for violent robberies.

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA: On April 19th, 2021 the U.S. House of Representatives passed federal legislation to provide legitimate cannabis businesses access to banking services, an issue that has long been championed by U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), founder and co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus. The bipartisan passage of the Secure And Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act in the 117th Congress comes as Portland-area cannabis businesses and their workers continue to be targeted with violent robberies that have been linked to a system that forces cannabis businesses to deal almost exclusively in cash.

“Cannabis will soon be a $20 billion industry and is overwhelmingly supported by the American public. The insane prohibition on banking services serves no one’s interest, except for money launderers, tax evaders, or those who are going to rob these cash-rich businesses,” Blumenauer said. “As we continue to push forward with full legalization, addressing this irrational, unfair, and unsafe denial of banking services to state-legal cannabis businesses is a top priority. This is a critical element of reform that can’t wait, and I urge our cannabis champions in the Senate to take up this legislation as soon as possible.”

Under the federal prohibition on cannabis, banks and credit unions are currently prohibited from serving cannabis businesses, even with financial products as simple as savings accounts or payroll checks. Notwithstanding the financial and practical hardships facing legal cannabis businesses, forcing these businesses to operate on a cash-only basis creates a public safety risk and makes tracking revenue more difficult for tax purposes.

The cash-only nature of cannabis businesses also makes them easy and frequent targets for robberies, which puts workers at risk. According to a March 2021 report by Willamette Week, in the preceding 10 months, Portland cannabis shops were robbed, burglarized, or looted 95 times – often at gunpoint – resulting in one tragic fatality.

The legislation passed in the House would prohibit federal regulators from taking punitive measures against depository institutions that provide banking services to legitimate cannabis-related businesses and ancillary businesses like the electricians, plumbers, and the landlords that serve them. The SAFE Banking Act also requires a GAO study and annual regulator reports to Congress to ensure equal access to credit and to reduce barriers to marketplace entry for potential and existing minority- and women-owned cannabis-related businesses.

Full text of the SAFE Banking Act can be found here.

Rep. Dave Joyce Objects To Marijuana-Related Firings at the White House

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA:  Congressional Cannabis Caucus co-chair Dave Joyce responded to last week’s reports that President Joe Biden fired five White House staffers over past marijuana use with a letter that urges Biden to reconsider his stance on employing people who’ve used marijuana.

The Bainbridge Township Republican’s letter observes that numerous states and territories have enacted “sensible cannabis reforms and legalization measures which have overturned decades-long policies that are both arcane and discriminatory,” and that “when used correctly and responsibly, cannabis has many proven health benefits, including the treatment of PTSD and serving as an opioid alternative to pain management.

“As our nation continues to grapple with an increased rate of PTSD amongst our veteran communities and a growing opioid crisis that has caused thousands of fatal overdoses amid the COVID-19 pandemic, we should be encouraging these therapies, not finding ways to further stigmatize and disenfranchise them,” Joyce’s letter continued.

Joyce’s letter said he’s also concerned about the message the federal government is sending by penalizing people who have been truthful about cannabis consumption, saying that “in a nation where the truth is considered malleable, we need to demonstrate to our young public servants that telling the truth is an honorable trait, not one to be punished.

“I respectfully request that your administration discontinue punishment of staff for being honest about their prior cannabis use and reinstate otherwise qualified individuals to their posts,” Joyce’s letter continued. “Moving forward, I encourage your administration to focus its efforts within cannabis on establishing an effective federal regulatory framework which recognizes that continued cannabis prohibition is neither tenable nor the will of the American electorate. I stand ready and willing to work with you in this regard.”

Joyce also joined a bipartisan group of more than 100 colleagues in reintroducing a bill that would let marijuana-related businesses in states with some form of legalized marijuana and strict regulatory structures to access the banking system. Legal marijuana businesses must currently operate on a cash basis because current laws keep them from accessing the banking system, increasing robbery risks. Republicans Bob Gibbs of Holmes County, Steve Stivers of Columbus and Warren Davidson of Miami County cosponsored the bill.

When questioned about the firings on Wednesday, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki noted that marijuana remains federally illegal despite its legal status in some states. She said rules against marijuana use were “far more stringent” during the administration of former President Barack Obama. She said a number of the five individuals who are no longer employed at the White House had additional “security issues.”

“I think if marijuana was federally legal, that might be a different circumstance,” said Psaki.

Representatives Blumenauer and Lee Urge President Biden to Pardon Federal Cannabis Offenses

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA:  Today, U.S. Representatives Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Barbara Lee (D-CA), co-chairs of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, led 35 lawmakers in urging President Joe Biden to use executive clemency to pardon individuals convicted of federal cannabis offenses.

“Until the day that Congress sends you a marijuana reform bill to sign, you have a unique ability to lead on criminal justice reform and provide immediate relief to thousands of Americans,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter sent to the president. “We urge you to grant executive clemency for all non-violent cannabis offenders.”

The lawmakers stressed that discriminatory cannabis policies have perpetuated systemic racism in America for decades, citing a 2020 report issued by the ACLU that found that Black people are 3.64 times more likely than white people to be arrested for marijuana possession, despite comparable usage rates.

“During your previous tenure at the White House, President Obama understood that decades of harsh and discriminatory federal drug laws unfairly trapped minority individuals and communities in cycles of despair. That is why he used the tools of justice to grant clemency for 1,927 individuals convicted of federal crimes,” the lawmakers continued. “Your Administration has the power to expand on end this legacy and issue a general pardon to all former federal, non-violent cannabis offenders in the U.S and trigger resentencing for all those who remain federally incarcerated on non-violent, cannabis-only offenses for activity now legal under state laws.”

In their letter to President Biden Thursday, the lawmakers also noted that their request is not a partisan issue. Every president since George H.W. Bush has exercised their pardoning power for cannabis offenses.

This push from lawmakers comes after Americans in five more states voted overwhelmingly to liberalize their cannabis policies during the November elections and the U.S. House of Representatives took the historic step of passing the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment, and Expungement (MORE) Act in December.

“President Biden’s leadership on issuing pardons to nonviolent federal marijuana offenders would demonstrate a down payment on his campaign promise to prioritize criminal justice reform and similarly inspire similar justice-oriented actions in a non-partisan fashion around the country,” said NORML Political Director Justin Strekal. “Shortly after President Biden’s election, the House of Representatives voted to end the federal prohibition of marijuana. Now in a new legislative session, President Biden should follow their lead and move to immediately provide relief to those who continue to suffer from a criminal record for a nonviolent federal marijuana offense. We are tremendously grateful for the leadership of the Cannabis Caucus, particularly Representatives Barbara Lee and Earl Blumenauer, as they tirelessly lead this ongoing but hopefully soon to be finished fight for marijuana justice nationwide.”

In addition to Blumenauer and Lee, the letter was signed by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler and Reps. Nydia Velázquez, Adriano Espaillat, Bonnie Watson Coleman, James McGovern, Jan Schakowsky, Jesús “Chuy” García, Eleanor Holmes Norton, Rashida Tlaib, Danny K. Davis, Alan Lowenthal, Alcee Hastings, David Trone, Mark Pocan, Carolyn Maloney, Peter Welch, Dwight Evans, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley, Jared Huffman, Pramila Jayapal, Ed Perlmutter, Mondaire Jones, Zoe Lofgren, Ro Khanna, J. Luis Correa, Brenda Lawrence, Charlie Crist, Dean Phillips, Jamaal Bowman, Steven Horsford, Henry “Hank” Johnson, Jake Auchincloss, Raúl Grijalva, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

A PDF copy of the letter is available here.

Congressional Cannabis Caucus Co-Chairs Urge Colleagues to Pass Federal Cannabis Reform Following Sweeping Ballot Measure Victories

Cannabis reform was clear winner on election day

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA:  U.S. Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Barbara Lee (D-CA), co-chairs of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, sent a letter to their House colleagues urging strong support of comprehensive federal cannabis reform legislation that will be voted on this year.

The letter comes after resounding victories last week in Arizona, Montana, New Jersey, South Dakota and Mississippi, where voters approved a series of cannabis ballot measures. Cannabis will now be legalized for adult use in 15 states and medical use in 36 states.

“One of the biggest winners of the 2020 election was cannabis reform. Americans in five very different states voted overwhelmingly to liberalize their cannabis policies, and it is clearer than ever that the American people are demanding a change to outdated cannabis laws,” Blumenauer and Lee wrote. “There’s no question: cannabis prohibition will end soon. We should lead the way by passing H.R.3884 – Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act.”

Yesterday, House leadership asserted that the MORE Act – landmark legislation to remove marijuana from the federal Controlled Substances Act and enact restorative justice for communities of color most impacted by the failed cannabis prohibition – would receive a vote on the House floor next month, which Blumenauer and Lee are urging their colleagues to support.

“The recent success of cannabis reform in states around the country should give us a new sense of urgency to ensure Congress catches up with the American people,” Blumenauer and Lee added. “This is a critical issue of racial justice, and the failed war on drugs has devastated communities of color, especially Black and brown communities. We can no longer ignore our duty to repair the damage that this harmful form of systemic racism has done.”

A PDF copy of the letter sent today by Blumenauer and Lee is available here.

Following is the full text:

Dear Colleague: 

One of the biggest winners of the 2020 election was cannabis reform. Americans in five very different states voted overwhelmingly to liberalize their cannabis policies and it is clearer than ever that the American people are demanding a change to outdated cannabis laws. There’s no question: cannabis prohibition will end soon. We should lead the way by passing H.R.3884 – Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act. 

Last week’s results reaffirm the strong bipartisan support to reform our failed cannabis prohibition. Even in states where Republicans easily swept elections, like in Mississippi and South Dakota, cannabis-related ballot measures passed with strong support. The success in Arizona, Montana, Mississippi, New Jersey and South Dakota means that cannabis will be legal for adult use in 15 states and medical use in 36 states. More than 109 million people will live in states where cannabis is legal for adults to use, that is more than one in three Americans. In total, almost 99% of Americans will live in states with some form of legal cannabis. We cannot ignore the will of the people any longer.  

This comes as no surprise—national support for federal cannabis legalization is at an all-time high, and trends show that support will continue to grow. Polling from the Pew Research Center shows that 67% of registered voters think “the use of cannabis should be made legal,” and the Center for American Progress found that 73% support expunging the records of those previously convicted of cannabis-related offenses. This finding is confirmed by the fact that in the last three elections, 16 of the 18 pro-cannabis reform ballot initiatives were successful—even in places like Utah and Mississippi.

This past election further demonstrated that cannabis reform is popular, non-partisan, and the just thing to do as states have also made clear their commitment to restorative justice. Montana, which ranks first in the country for having the largest racial disparities for cannabis arrests will allow an individual currently serving a sentence for a prior low-level cannabis offense to apply for resentencing or an expungement of the conviction.

The recent success of cannabis reform in states around the country should give us a new sense of urgency to ensure Congress catches up with the American people. This is a critical issue of racial justice, and the failed war on drugs has devastated communities of color, especially Black and Brown communities. We can no longer ignore our duty to repair the damage that this harmful form of systemic racism has done.

The House was poised to vote on the MORE Act, the most comprehensive federal cannabis reform legislation we’ve ever seen, back in September. As the House kept our focus on providing struggling Americans with relief from COVID-19, we received commitment from our Caucus leadership that Congress would take steps to end the failed war on drugs by voting on the MORE Act before the year was over.  

We have an opportunity and duty to correct course now. As we head into the lame-duck session, we must remember the promise we made to the American people to pass the MORE Act.

Thank you for your urgency.

Blumenauer Calls On Supreme Court To Review Historic Appeal Challenging The Constitutionality Of Federal Criminalization Of Cannabis

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA:  U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), founder and co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, called upon the U.S. Supreme Court to review and proceed with hearing Washington v. Barr, the most significant and potentially consequential cannabis-related lawsuit ever to be filed.

The Court will consider the plaintiffs’ appeal at a conference on Friday, October 9, and if the Court accepts the appeal for consideration, it could pave the way to federal legalization of cannabis for the first time since 1937, providing relief to millions of Americans who treat with medical marijuana to maintain their health and lives. If the Court were to decline to hear the appeal, the case would be over for good, resigning another generation of medical marijuana patients and the state-legal cannabis industry – which has invested billions in the state-legal market – to further legal uncertainty.

“The fact that nearly 94 percent of Americans support legalizing medical cannabis and yet it remains illegal at the federal level is a national disgrace,” said Blumenauer. “Furthermore, the laws and subsequent court decisions on cannabis are a mangled patchwork of contradictions. This case is an important opportunity to fix our failed national cannabis laws.”

In July 2020, the plaintiffs in Washington v. Barr filed their appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court, challenging the constitutionality of the federal criminalization of medical marijuana. The case was filed on behalf of five plaintiffs, including former NFL player Marvin Washington, Iraq War Veteran Jose Belen, 15-year-old Alexis Bortell, nine-year-old Jagger Cotte and the Cannabis Cultural Association.

As acknowledged by the District Court in this case, Alexis, Jagger and Specialist Belen are patients whose lives have been saved by medical cannabis. As reflected in the Complaint, Marvin Washington is a cannabis entrepreneur whose business would otherwise be eligible for federal funding through the Minority Business Enterprise program, but for his participation in the cannabis industry. The Cannabis Cultural Association seeks economic parity and social justice for persons of color who have been unfairly singled out for prosecution under the Controlled Substances Act and unjustly excluded economically from the state-legal cannabis industry.

Blumenauer along with seven federal lawmakers submitted an amicus brief in support of the plaintiff’s appeal. The case also has amicus brief support from 19 advocacy groups, including the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), the International Cannabis Bar Association, National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA), Last Prisoner Project, Minority Cannabis Business Association, and Americans For Safe Access.

Despite its legalization by 38 U.S. states and territories, cannabis is illegal at the federal level, creating insurmountable problems for patients around the country. Patients have lost their jobs, been expelled from colleges, and lost their professional licenses, even if state-legal jurisdictions, due to cannabis stigmatization wrought by federal prohibition.

While cannabis is also on the ballot in five states that will be voting on some form of cannabis legalization in November, adoption of legalization electorally on the state level will not solve the problems associated with federal prohibition. Rather, it would merely reinforce the absurdity of marijuana’s classification under Schedule I.

To read the full amicus brief filed on behalf of Blumenauer and his Congressional colleagues, click here.

House Approves Blumenauer Amendment To Protect Cannabis Programs

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA:  As national support for federal marijuana legalization continues to climb, the U.S. House of Representatives today approved important legislation to protect state, territory, and tribal cannabis programs from federal interference.

The amendment, introduced by U.S. Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-CO), Tom McClintock (R-CA), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), and Barbara Lee (D-CA), was approved 254–163 and would ensure legal cannabis programs in Oregon and dozens of other states, territories, and tribal lands are protected from Department of Justice intervention.

“The American people are demanding a change to our outdated cannabis laws and I am glad to see my colleagues heeding their calls,” Blumenauer, founder and co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, said. “As we work to ultimately end the senseless prohibition of cannabis and the failed war on drugs, these amendments will help ensure the protection of legal state, territory and tribal cannabis programs.”

“For far too long, our federal cannabis policies have been rooted in our discriminatory past and have continued inflicting harm on communities of color. As the public’s views toward cannabis have evolved, Congress has a responsibility to ensure that our policies follow suit and move toward restorative justice,” Lee said. “I’m proud to have worked alongside Reps. Blumenauer, McClintock, and Holmes Norton on this crucial amendment to protect the progress states, tribes, and territories have made toward ending the discriminatory war on drugs.”

A copy of the amendment approved Thursday by the House can be found here.

And here’s a video of Blumenauer speaking in support of the amendment today on the House floor.

Congresswoman Barbara Lee Applauds Passage of Amendment to Protect State, Territory, and Tribal Cannabis Programs

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA: Congresswoman Barbara Lee (CA-13), co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, today applauded the passage of the Blumenauer, McClintock, Holmes Norton, Lee amendment to the Commerce, Justice, and Science Department funding bill. The measure, which would prevent the Department of Justice from using its funds to impede the implementation of cannabis programs in states, territories, and tribes, passed in a 254-163 vote. 

“For far too long, our federal cannabis policies have been rooted in our discriminatory past and have continued inflicting harm on communities of color. As the public’s views toward cannabis have evolved, Congress has a responsibility to ensure that our policies follow suit and move toward restorative justice,” said Congresswoman Barbara Lee. “I’m proud to have worked alongside Reps. Blumenauer, McClintock, and Holmes Norton on this crucial amendment to protect the progress states, tribes, and territories have made toward ending the discriminatory war on drugs.”

“The American people are demanding a change to our outdated cannabis laws and I am glad to see my colleagues heeding their calls,” said Rep. Blumenauer, founder and co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus. “As we work to ultimately end the senseless prohibition of cannabis and the failed war on drugs, these amendments will help ensure the protection of legal state, territory and tribal cannabis programs.”

Senator Harris, Colleagues Call On Congressional Leaders To Ensure Cannabis Small Businesses Can Access Emergency SBA Loan & Grant Programs

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA: U.S. Senator Kamala D. Harris (D-CA) on Wednesday joined Senators Jacky Rosen (D-NV) and Ron Wyden (D-OR), and 7 of their Senate colleagues in sending a letter to Congressional leadership calling for forthcoming COVID-19 relief legislative packages to allow state-legal cannabis small businesses and indirect cannabis small businesses to access loan and emergency grant programs administered by the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA).

In the letter, the Senators highlight the failings of current regulations that exclude small businesses with “direct” or “indirect” products or services that aid the use, growth, enhancement, or other development of cannabis from SBA-backed financing, including the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL). These outdated regulations have left taxpaying, state-legal cannabis small businesses behind during this crisis.

“The cannabis industry supports more than 240,000 workers in the United States, spanning 33 states and the District of Columbia. Some of these jobs have already been lost due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting economic crisis, and there is significant risk of greater job loss in the coming months. Many cannabis businesses are small-to-medium size operators, and some have been ordered to close to comply with state public health safety measures without having access to the same support systems in place as other small businesses in different sectors,” wrote the Senators.

“Given the nature of the global COVID-19 pandemic, we must ensure that every American small business has the capacity to protect the health and economic wellbeing of their community and workforce. Therefore, we ask Senate Leadership to include in any future relief package provisions to allow state-legal cannabis small businesses and the small businesses who work with this industry to access the critical SBA support they need during these challenging and unprecedented times,” concluded the Senators.

In addition to Harris, Rosen, and Wyden, the letter was signed by Senators Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Bernie Sanders (D-VT), Ed Markey (D-MA), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Michael Bennet (D-CO).

The full text of the letter can be found here and below:

Dear Majority Leader McConnell and Leader Schumer:

Thank you for your ongoing efforts to address the needs of the American people during the COVID-19 crisis. We write to ask that forthcoming COVID-19 relief legislation allow state-legal cannabis small businesses and indirect marijuana small businesses to access emergency loan and grant programs administered by the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA). Access to the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and the Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) program will allow these small businesses to keep their workers on payroll and prevent further job losses that are devastating the economy. The coronavirus crisis demands relief for all workers and businesses, no matter the sector.

The cannabis industry supports more than 240,000 workers in the United States, spanning 33 states and the District of Columbia. Some of these jobs have already been lost due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting economic crisis, and there is significant risk of greater job loss in the coming months. Many cannabis businesses are small-to-medium size operators, and some have been ordered to close to comply with state public health safety measures without having access to the same support systems in place as other small businesses in different sectors.

SBA’s current regulations exclude small businesses with “direct” or “indirect” products or services that aid the use, growth, enhancement, or other development of cannabis from SBA-backed financing, including PPP and EIDL. Consequently, small business owners in states with some form of legal cannabis must choose between remaining eligible for SBA loan programs, or doing business with or in a rapidly-growing and legal industry.

Workers at state-legal cannabis small businesses are no different from workers at any other small business—they show up to work every day, perform their duties, and most importantly, work to provide for their families. This lack of access to SBA assistance for cannabis small businesses will undoubtedly lead to unnecessary layoffs, reduced hours, pay cuts, and furloughs for the workers who need support the most. The COVID-19 outbreak is no time to permit outdated federal policy to stand in the way of the reality that state-legal cannabis small businesses are sources of economic growth and financial stability for thousands of workers and families.

Given the nature of the global COVID-19 pandemic, we must ensure that every American small business has the capacity to protect the health and economic wellbeing of their community and workforce. Therefore, we ask Senate Leadership to include in any future relief package provisions to allow state-legal cannabis small businesses and the small businesses who work with this industry to access the critical SBA support they need during these challenging and unprecedented times.

Thank you for your consideration of this request.

Sincerely,

Booker, Lee, Khanna Introduce Landmark Marijuana Justice Bill

Social justice bill would end the federal prohibition on marijuana, expunge records, and reinvest in communities most impacted by War on Drugs

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA: U.S. Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ), a member of the Senate’s Judiciary Committee, Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), Co-Chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, and Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA), today reintroduced their landmark bill to end the federal prohibition on marijuana.

In the Senate, the bill is cosponsored by Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Michael Bennet (D-CO).

“The War on Drugs has not been a war on drugs, it’s been a war on people, and disproportionately people of color and low-income individuals,” said Booker. “The Marijuana Justice Act seeks to reverse decades of this unfair, unjust, and failed policy by removing marijuana from the list of controlled substances and making it legal at the federal level.”

“But it’s not enough to simply decriminalize marijuana. We must also repair the damage caused by reinvesting in those communities that have been most harmed by the War on Drugs. And we must expunge the records of those who have served their time. The end we seek is not just legalization, it’s justice.”

“The War on Drugs has destroyed lives, and no one continues to be hurt more than people of color and low-income communities,” said Wyden. “There is a desperate need not only to correct course by ending the failed federal prohibition of marijuana, but to right these wrongs and ensure equal justice for those who have been disproportionately impacted.”

“Millions of Americans’ lives have been devastated because of our broken marijuana policies, especially in communities of color and low-income communities,” said Gillibrand. “Currently, just one minor possession conviction can take away a lifetime of opportunities for jobs, education, and housing, tear families apart, and make people more vulnerable to serving time in jail down the road. It is shameful that my son would likely be treated very differently from one of his Black or Latino peers if he was caught with marijuana, and legalizing marijuana is an issue of morality and social justice. I’m proud to work with Senator Booker on this legislation to help fix decades of injustice caused by our nation’s failed drug policies.”

“As I said during my 2016 campaign, hundreds of thousands of people are arrested for possession of marijuana every single year,” said Sanders. “Many of those people, disproportionately people of color, have seen their lives negatively impacted because they have criminal records as a result of marijuana use. That has got to change. We must end the absurd situation of marijuana being listed as a Schedule 1 drug alongside heroin. It is time to decriminalize marijuana, expunge past marijuana convictions and end the failed war on drugs.”

“Marijuana laws in this country have not been applied equally, and as a result we have criminalized marijuana use in a way that has led to the disproportionate incarceration of young men of color. It’s time to change that,” said Harris. “Legalizing marijuana is the smart thing to do and the right thing to do in order to advance justice and equality for every American.”

“Marijuana should be legalized, and we should wipe clean the records of those unjustly jailed for minor marijuana crimes. By outlawing marijuana, the federal government puts communities of color, small businesses, public health and safety at risk.” said Warren.

“This long-overdue change will help bring our marijuana laws into the 21st century. It’s past time we bring fairness and relief to communities that our criminal justice system has too often left behind.” said Bennet.

“Communities of color and low-income communities have been devastated by the War on Drugs,” said Lee. “As Co-Chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, I’m proud to sponsor legislation that would legalize marijuana at the federal level, address the disproportionate impact of prohibition on people of color by expunging criminal convictions, and promote equitable participation in the legal marijuana industry by investing in the communities hardest hit by the failed War on Drugs.”

“Communities of color have been disproportionately impacted by misguided marijuana policy for far too long,” said Khanna. “Rep. Lee, Sen. Booker, and I are proud to introduce this important legislation and deliver justice for so many Americans.”

The Marijuana Justice Act seeks to reverse decades of failed drug policy that has disproportionately impacted low-income communities and communities of color. Beyond removing marijuana from the list of controlled substances – making it legal at the federal level – the bill would also automatically expunge the convictions of those who have served federal time for marijuana use and possession offenses, and it would reinvest in the communities most impacted by the failed War on Drugs through a community fund. This community reinvestment fund could be used for projects such as job training programs, re-entry services, and community centers.

The bill would also incentivize states through the use of federal funds to change their marijuana laws if those laws were shown to have a disproportionate effect on low-income individuals and/or people of color.

By going further than simply rescheduling marijuana with expungement and community reinvestment, Booker, Lee, and Khanna’s bill is the most far-reaching marijuana legislation ever to be introduced in Congress.

The bill is retroactive and would apply to those already serving time behind bars for marijuana-related offenses, providing for a judge’s review of marijuana sentences.

Full text of the bill is here.

Background on Booker’s leadership on issues of marijuana and criminal justice:

Booker has seen the effects of our broken marijuana laws first-hand, dating back to his time as a tenant lawyer, City Council member, and Mayor of Newark, where he created the city’s first office of prisoner re-entry to help formerly incarcerated individuals re-integrate into their communities.

In the Senate, Booker was an outspoken critic of former Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ effort to revive the failed War on Drugs. Most recently, he pressed Trump’s newest pick for Attorney General, William Barr, on his stance on marijuana legalization and the Cole memo, winning a commitment from Barr to leave alone states that have already legalized marijuana.

In addition to the Marijuana Justice Act, Booker is the co-author of the bipartisan CARERS Act, which would allow patients to access medical marijuana in states where it’s legal without fear of federal prosecution, and the bipartisan REDEEM Act, which would allow nonviolent drug offenders to petition a court to seal and expunge their drug offenses, while automatically sealing, and in some cases expunging, the nonviolent records of juveniles. These reforms would reduce a major barrier that formerly incarcerated individuals face when attempting to rejoin society. He is also a cosponsor of the Fair Chance Act, which prohibits the federal government and federal contractors from asking about the criminal history of a job applicant prior to a conditional offer of employment. Earlier this month, the Fair Chance Act passed out of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.