Historic Marijuana Legislation Condemned to Legislative Moratorium Yet Again
This article is part of a three-part series (3/3).
This past month, the House planned to vote on a historic bill that would see marijuana be taken off the Controlled Substances Act of 1970 as a Schedule I substance. Schedule I substances are defined by the law as follows:
The drug, substance, or chemical has a high potential for abuse.
The drug, substance, or chemical has no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the U.S.
There is a lack of accepted safety for use of the drug, substance, or chemical under medical supervision.”
The second and third provisions in particular are contrary to both history and the present in regards to marijuana use. Marijuana has been used for medicinal purposes in this country for hundreds of years. Even in 1938, a year after the passing of the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937, which criminalized the drug, the Professional Relations Committee of the Bronx County Pharmaceutical Association compiled a list of 28 pharmaceutical preparations which used cannabis. As of October 2020, medicinal marijuana is fully legal in 34 states. Moreover, there is currently a class offered at Harvard University titled “The Health Effects of Cannabis.” These reasons and more have led many to question if marijuana still belongs as a Schedule I alongside far more dangerous drugs such as heroin.
The bill that would see marijuana removed from this list is the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment, and Expungement Act, otherwise known as the MORE Act. The bill was sponsored by Congressman Jerry Nadler (D-NY) and Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA), now running as Joe Biden’s Vice President. Co-sponsors include Senator Elizabeth Warren and Senator Markey, both Democrats hailing from Massachusetts.
The MORE Act would not make marijuana legal on a federal level, but rather it would decriminalize it, leaving it to the states to determine its legal status. Another component of the bill is the replacement of the word “marijuana”on official documentation with “cannabis” in order to mitigate the coded racism which has pervaded cannabis legislation from the very start.
Also included in the bill are provisions that aid cannabis related businesses as well as individual users:
requires the Bureau of Labor Statistics to regularly publish demographic data on cannabis business owners and employees,
establishes a trust fund to support various programs and services for individuals and businesses in communities impacted by the war on drugs,
imposes a 5% tax on cannabis products and requires revenues to be deposited into the trust fund,
makes Small Business Administration loans and services available to entities that are cannabis-related legitimate businesses or service providers,
prohibits the denial of federal public benefits to a person on the basis of certain cannabis-related conduct or convictions,
prohibits the denial of benefits and protections under immigration laws on the basis of a cannabis-related event (e.g., conduct or a conviction), and
establishes a process to expunge convictions and conduct sentencing review hearings related to federal cannabis offenses.
In many ways, the law legitimizes cannabis as a business and as a product, while also defending against those who have paid the unjust consequences that result from marijuana being a Schedule I substance. This is a far cry from the majority of previous legislation pertaining to the drug which created and then perpetuated mass incarceration. The bill also appears to be somewhat self-sufficient, feeding the tax dollars earned from cannabis products into the trust fund for individuals and communities disproportionately affected by marijuana legislation.
The House did not yet vote on the bill, citing a need to prioritize pandemic relief. Even if it were to eventually pass, the Senate is unlikely to vote on the bill due to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-KY) opposition to the bill. However, Amy McGrath, McConnell’s Democratic opponent in the Kentucky Senate election, supports medical marijuana, so this too is still up in the air.
According to a study done by progressive think-tank Data for Progress, legalization of cannabis has bipartisan support among voters. According to research by Gallup, a U.S. analytics company that frequently conducts polls and surveys, support for the legalization of marijuana has increased by 30% since 2005, although it has remained at 66% since 2018.
As far as where the two major party presidential candidates stand, President Trump has wavered back and forth. However, he has identified it as a weakness for Republican Party’s political motives, advising Republicans to not put marijuana on the ballot when they run. Vice President Pence is entirely against the legalization of marijuana.
Vice President Biden supports the legalization of marijuana, but he wants to let states decide. Despite being responsible for almost 2,000 arrests during her stint as Attorney General of California, Harris is strongly in favor of the legalization of marijuana.
The Congressional Cannabis Caucus co-chairs, Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Barbara Lee (D-CA), have committed to voting on the bill before the end of this year. The MORE Act would certainly not solve all of the problems related to drug legislation in this country, nor make up for the myriad injustices of the past, but it would be a crucial first step to creating a more equitable society.