Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA), who has not historically been a supporter of marijuana legalization efforts, is now pushing for the decriminalization of marijuana at the federal level. Her new stance was evident Tuesday when she announced that she was introducing federal decriminalization legislation called the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act (the “MORE Act”).

The MORE Act aims to decriminalize marijuana by removing it from the list of controlled substances in Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act. The MORE Act also seeks to ensure that those impacted by the war on drugs have an opportunity to be a part of the cannabis industry. When discussing her proposed legislation, Harris said, “[a]s marijuana becomes legal across the country, we must make sure everyone — especially communities of color that have been disproportionately impacted by the war on drugs — has a real opportunity to participate in this growing industry.” Further, according to Senator Harris’s website, the MORE Act:

  • Enables states to set their own policy regarding marijuana legalization.
  • Requires federal courts to expunge certain 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% federal 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 state-legal cannabis-related businesses and service providers.
  • Provides non-discrimination protections for marijuana use or possession, and for prior convictions for a marijuana offense, by prohibiting the denial of any federal public benefit (including housing) based on the use or possession of marijuana, or prior conviction for a marijuana offense, and providing 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 cannabis industry to ensure people of color and those who are economically disadvantaged are participating in the industry.

The MORE Act is co-sponsored by four senators who have all previously introduced their own marijuana legislation: Cory Booker (D-NJ), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Ron Wyden (D-OR), and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA). In addition, the MORE Act is also sponsored by 26 Democratic representatives and one Republican representative. Several advocacy groups also support the proposed legislation, including the Drug Policy Alliance, Center for American Progress, 4thMVMT, ACLU, California Minority Alliance, 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, National Council for Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls, National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), Sentencing Project, Students for Sensible Drug Policy, UndocuBlack Network, and Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA).

While the list of sponsors and support is impressive, the most important supporter is likely Representative Jerry Nadler (D-NY). Representative Nadler is the Chair of the House Judiciary Committee, and thus likely has the power to ensure the MORE Act advances (and certain other marijuana legalization bills do not advance) out of the committee for a full chamber vote. As with most things currently happening in Washington, this is another step in the right direction for federal legalization (or at least decriminalization), but there is still a long way to go.

Be sure to check back in on our blog regularly, as we will continue to monitor and write about the MORE Act as things unfold in Washington.