Historic marijuana legalization bill approved by House Judiciary Committee

November 21, 2019

Cannabis Alert

Author(s): Christopher P. Hotaling, Lori B. Green, Morgan C. Nighan

In this alert, we explore the potential impacts of the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, which passed by a vote of 24–10, signaling continued government support toward broader cannabis reform.

On November 20, 2019, the House Judiciary Committee passed H.R. 3884, the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, by a vote of 24-10, with two Republicans joining the Democratic majority. The MORE Act is comprehensive and aims to correct historical injustices created by other drug policies, which disproportionally impacted communities of color and low-income communities. The MORE Act does the following:

  • Decriminalizes marijuana at the federal level by removing it from Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act. This statutory change would apply retroactively to prior and pending convictions and allow states to set their own marijuana enforcement policy.
  • Re-assesses prior criminal convictions by requiring federal courts to expunge certain convictions, allows prior offenders to request expungement for other categories of convictions, and requires courts to conduct re-sentencing hearings, on motion, for those still under DOJ supervision.
  • Provides for a 5% sales tax on marijuana and marijuana products to create an Opportunity Trust Fund, the revenue from which will be used to fund restorative justice programs for those adversely affected by the criminalization of marijuana, including:
    • The Community Reinvestment Grant Program, which provides services to the individuals most adversely impacted by the criminalization of marijuana, including job training, re-entry services, legal aid, literacy programs, youth recreation, mentoring, and substance abuse treatment.
    • The Cannabis Opportunity Grant Program, which 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, which provides funds for programs that minimize barriers to marijuana licensing and employment for the individuals most adversely impacted by the criminalization of marijuana.
  • Makes Small Business Administration funding available for marijuana-related businesses and service providers.
  • Protects persons with prior convictions for marijuana-related offenses from discrimination by prohibiting the denial of federal public benefits or immigration decisions to be based on the use or possession of marijuana, or a prior conviction for a marijuana offense.
  • Requires the Bureau of Labor Statistics to collect data on the demographics of the industry to ensure people of color and those who are economically disadvantaged are participating in the industry.

The passage of the MORE Act through the Judiciary Committee is significant because it signals an appetite by many in Congress to continue the push toward broader marijuana reform, which began in earnest in September with the passage in the House of the SAFE Banking Act. While the SAFE Act passed the House with strong bipartisan support, it is less clear that the MORE Act, and the goal of decriminalizing marijuana, together with funding restorative justice programs, will attract significant Republican support in the House. That being said, if the MORE Act is brought to the floor for a vote, it very likely will pass the House. On the other side of the Capitol, Senator Kamala Harris has introduced a companion bill to the MORE Act, but there has been no action on it in the Senate Judiciary Committee. With attention in the Senate likely focused more on finding a compromise to pass a cannabis banking bill along the lines of the SAFE Act, passage of the more sweeping MORE Act seems less plausible at this time.

The foregoing has been prepared for the general information of clients and friends of the firm. It is not meant to provide legal advice with respect to any specific matter and should not be acted upon without professional counsel. If you have any questions or require any further information regarding these or other related matters, please contact your regular Nixon Peabody LLP representative. This material may be considered advertising under certain rules of professional conduct.

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