Congress moved one step closer to decriminalizing marijuana as the House of Representatives passed the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE Act). Led by members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, the MORE Act would remove marijuana from the schedule of controlled substances.
The bill does not legalize marijuana but is seen as a step toward legalization by many. It passed mostly along party lines, with three Republicans joining Democrats in voting in favor of the legislation.
According to a recent Vox explainer addressing the various issues related to marijuana production, sale and consumption could involve multiple pieces of legislation. But the MORE Act addresses many of the concerns and seems to represent the most comprehensive approach if only one piece of legislation were to move forward.
The caucus called the bill’s passage a “key racial, economic and criminal justice” victory.
“Studies show a Black person is 3.64 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than a white person, even though Black and white people use marijuana at similar rates,” read the statement. “Not only does the MORE Act decriminalize marijuana, but it also takes on mass incarceration by eliminating criminal penalties for an individual who manufactures, distributes, or possesses marijuana, and establishing a process to expunge marijuana-related convictions.”
Rep. Barbara Lee echoed the statement in remarks urging her House colleagues to vote for the legislation.
“Make no mistake: Yes, it IS a racial justice bill…We must end this failed policy of marijuana prohibition, which has led to the shattering of so many lives – primarily Black and Brown people,” Lees said.
Rep. Nikema Williams, who represents the Fifth Congressional District in Georgia covering a majority of Atlanta, challenged those who don’t see cannabis equity as racial justice.
“Black, Latino, and Indigenous people have carried the brunt of marijuana criminalization while being shut out of the legal cannabis market,” Williams tweeted. “Don’t tell me cannabis equity isn’t a racial justice issue. #WeNeedMORE.”
Damon Hewitt, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, praised the House and urged the Senate to take up the bill quickly. Hewitt said the act’s provisions correcting harm caused by people’s entanglement in the federal criminal legal system could impact many Americans.
“The war on drugs drove the disturbing rise of mass incarceration nationwide, disrupting families and derailing the lives of millions of Americans,” Hewitt said.
This is the second time the House has passed the MORE Act. It matters that the House continues to push forward legislation that represents the people’s will and moves the country forward. While it is expected that the MORE Act will not pass the Senate, it is another example of why expanding the majority is essential for Democrats looking to move important legislation forward.
A Gallup poll showed that 68 percent of Americans support legalizing marijuana. It’s estimated that half of Republican voters also support legalization.
Sydney Richardson-Gorski, a policy associate with the Lawyers’ Committee, said the war on drugs was a devastating policy effort that destabilized Black and other communities of color.
“The criminalization of marijuana has had a devastating effect on our communities, and the solutions to the problem need to have a focus on those most impacted, Richardson-Gorski said. “The MORE Act does just that. With comprehensive reforms like retroactive decriminalization, a new Office of Cannabis Justice, and targeted tax applications, the MORE Act takes a vital step toward repair.”