Historic Legislation Decriminalizes Marijuana and Empowers Communities Ravaged by the War on Drugs

Friday, December 4, 2020- Washington, D.C. — Today, Assistant Speaker-elect Katherine Clark (MA-5) celebrated the passage of the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment, and Expungement (MORE) Act, legislation that would decriminalize marijuana at the federal level, expunge convictions for non-violent offenses from people's records, promote equitable participation in the legal industry, and make medical access to marijuana easier for our veterans. 

“The criminalization of marijuana is unscientific in its justification and unequivocally racist in practice,” said Congresswoman Clark. “People of color are almost four times as likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than their white counterparts despite equal rates of use, leading to the over-policing of communities of color and convictions that damage job prospects, access to housing, and the ability to vote. This racial, economic, and criminal injustice must end now. I’m proud to have voted today in favor of this legislation that is supported overwhelmingly by the American people and is a step forward for criminal justice reform and racial justice.”

The MORE Act would:

  • End the federal prohibition of marijuana by removing the drug from the list of federally controlled substances.
  • Require federal courts to expunge prior marijuana convictions, allow offenders to request expungement, and requires courts, on motion, to conduct re-sentencing hearings for those still under supervision.
  • Open up Small Business Administration funding programs for legitimate cannabis-related businesses and service providers.
  • Require 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.
  • Establish a tax regime for cannabis products, including excise and occupational taxes. These taxes are established in order to create an Opportunity Trust Fund, which will fund the following three new grant programs:
    • The Community Reinvestment Grant Program: Program will fund a variety of services targeted to those individuals adversely impacted by marijuana criminalization and their families. Under the program, a new Cannabis Justice Office within DOJ will provide funding to eligible non-profit community organizations to administer such services as job training, re-entry services, legal aid, literacy programs, youth recreation, and mentoring services.
  • The Cannabis Opportunity Program: Under this program, funds would be made available through the Small Business Administration to eligible states and localities to make loans to assist small business concerns that operate in the cannabis industry that are owned and controlled by socially and economically disadvantaged individuals.
  • Equitable Licensing Grant Program: Under this program, funds would be made available through the Small Business Administration to eligible states and localities to develop and implement equitable cannabis licensing programs that minimize barriers to cannabis licensing and employment for individuals adversely impacted by marijuana criminalization.

Current marijuana laws are increasingly out of step with public views and norms. Polling by Gallop in October, 2020 found that 68% of Americans believe the use of marijuana should be made legal, and a total of 47 states have reformed their laws pertaining to marijuana despite its federal criminalization.

The continued enforcement of cannabis prohibition laws results in over 600,000 arrests annually, disproportionately impacting people of color who are almost four times more likely to be arrested for cannabis possession than their White counterparts, despite equal rates of use across populations. According to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting Program, over 545,000 Americans were arrested for marijuana-related crimes in 2019 alone, and over 90% of those arrested were charged with mere possession. Marijuana prohibition is also one of the single largest contributors of unjust practices like civil asset forfeiture, no-knock arrests, and stop-and-frisk policing.

The communities that have been most harmed by cannabis prohibition are benefiting the least from the legal marijuana marketplace. A legacy of racial and ethnic injustices, compounded by the disproportionate collateral consequences of 80 years of cannabis prohibition enforcement, now limits participation in the industry. Fewer than one-fifth of cannabis business owners identify as minorities and only approximately 4 percent are Black.