Top Democrats Introduce Major Marijuana Reform Bill

The Nadler-Harris bill aims to legalize marijuana at the federal level, expunge prior convictions, create opportunities for those impacted by the War on Drugs, and protect immigrants.

Two of the top Democrats in the Senate and House have unveiled new marijuana reform legislation with the intention to right the wrongs of prohibition and create opportunities for communities of color.

The Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act, or the MORE Act, was introduced on July 23 by U.S. Senator and Democratic presidential hopeful Kamala D. Harris (D-CA) and U.S. Representative Jerrold Nadler (D-NY-10), Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. Both sponsors of the bill suggested that times have changed and federal law should reflect those changes.

“We need to start regulating marijuana, and expunge marijuana convictions from the records of millions of Americans so they can get on with their lives,” Harris stated in a press release.

Nadler, who introduced the bill in the U.S. House, stated in a press release that it’s necessary to correct the historical injustice brought on by marijuana laws.

“It’s past time to right this wrong nationwide and work to view marijuana use as an issue of personal choice and public health, not criminal behavior,” Nadler stated. “Despite the legalization of marijuana in states across the country, those with criminal convictions for marijuana still face second class citizenship. Their vote, access to education, employment, and housing are all negatively impacted.”

Marijuana remains illegal under U.S. federal law. At the same time, 33 states have legalized the possession and use of marijuana for medical purposes, and 11 of those have taken it a step further and legalized marijuana for recreational use. Learn more about where in the U.S. marijuana is legal.

Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act

Marijuana reform advocates have deemed the Nadler-Harris bill as one of the most comprehensive cannabis reform bills to date. The bill covers decriminalization, reinvestment, and protection to immigrants. Below are highlights of the act:

  • Decriminalizes cannabis at the federal level and applies retroactively to prior and pending convictions. The bill also gives states the power to set their own marijuana policies.
  • Makes it a requirement for federal courts to expunge prior marijuana convictions, and to conduct re-sentencing hearings for those still under supervision.
  • Creates the Opportunity Trust Fund by authorizing a 5 percent tax on cannabis and cannabis products. The trust would fund three grant programs aimed directly at providing opportunities for those in communities of color who were most negatively impacted by marijuana laws.
  • Provides funding for cannabis businesses via the Small Business Administration.
  • Puts into place federal, non-discrimination protections including prohibiting the denial of federal housing benefits based on marijuana offense or use.
  • Prevents immigrants from deportation for a marijuana conviction.
  • Ensures a fair chance for those in communities of color to participate in the cannabis industry by requiring the Bureau of Labor Statistics to collect data on the industry’s demographics.

Full text of the bill can be viewed here.

2020 Presidential Hopeful Kamala Harris

Harris joins several other Democratic presidential hopefuls who have introduced marijuana reform legislation. The 2020 presidential candidate has stated strong support for cannabis legalization and decriminalization over the past year, calling it the “smart thing to do and the right thing to do.”

Harris has rapidly excelled through the political ranks since she began her role as District Attorney of San Francisco in 2003. She went on to become the first African-American and first woman to be elected as California’s Attorney General. Harris was sworn in as a U.S. Senator in 2017.

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