DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA: House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) issued the following statement in support of H.R. 3884, the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act of 2020:
“Mr. Speaker, I am proud to have introduced H.R. 3884, the ‘Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act of 2020,’ or the ‘MORE Act of 2020.’
“This long overdue legislation would reverse the failed policy of criminalizing marijuana on the federal level and would take steps to address the heavy toll this policy has taken across the country, particularly on communities of color.
“The MORE Act would make three important changes to federal law:
(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, to address the needs of communities that have been seriously impacted by the War on Drugs, including increasing the participation of communities of color in the burgeoning cannabis market; and
(3) provide for the expungement of Federal marijuana convictions and arrests.
“For far too long, we have treated marijuana as a criminal justice problem instead of as a matter of personal choice and public health. Whatever one’s views are on the use of marijuana for recreational or medicinal use, the policy of arrests, prosecution, and incarceration at the Federal level has proven 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. For instance, 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. Representative Earl Blumenauer has also been an indefatigable advocate and has supported everything we have done to get to where we are today. I thank him, as well.
“Federal action on this issue would follow the growing recognition in the states that the status quo is unacceptable. Despite the federal government’s continuing criminalization of marijuana, 36 states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical cannabis. Fifteen 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 communities of color.
“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 widely used 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 people of color, 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, the most restrictive schedule that is attached to the most serious criminal penalties, where—unfairly and unjustifiably—it has remained ever since.
“As a consequence of this decision, thousands of individuals—overwhelmingly people of color—have been subjected, by the federal government, to unjust prison sentences for marijuana offenses. It is time for this manifest injustice to end. The MORE Act would remove marijuana from Schedule I and the Controlled Substances Act altogether, thereby decriminalizing it at the Federal level.
“This is only fair, particularly because the same racial animus motivating the enactment of marijuana laws also led to racially disproportionate enforcement of such laws, which has had a substantial, negative impact on communities of color. In fact, nationwide, the communities that have been most harmed by marijuana enforcement are benefitting 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 Treasury to fund programs within the Department of Justice and the Small Business Administration to empower communities of color and those adversely impacted by the War on Drugs. These programs would provide services to individuals, including job training, reentry services and substance use disorder services; provide funds for loans to assist small businesses that are owned and controlled by socially and economically disadvantaged individuals; and provide resources for programs that minimize barriers to marijuana licensing and employment for individuals 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 injustice 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 at the end of 2019—67 percent of Americans now back marijuana legalization, up from 62 percent in Pew’s 2018 poll. And just this November, there were ballot measures pertaining to marijuana in several states; they were all approved by voters. Indeed, the states have led the way—and continue to lead the way—on marijuana, but our federal laws have not kept pace with the obvious need for change. We need to catch up because the public supports reform 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.”