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Legislation to remove marijuana from the federal Controlled Substance Act has cleared the House Judiciary Committee.

H.R. 3884, the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, passed the committee Wednesday by a vote of 24-10. Bill sponsor and Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) indicated that his main goal is expunging criminal records.

“I have long believed that the criminalization of marijuana has been a mistake, and the racially disparate enforcement of marijuana laws has only compounded this mistake,” Nadler said. “While states have led the way in reform, our federal laws have not kept pace with the obvious need for change. With the passage of the MORE Act today, the Judiciary Committee has taken long overdue steps to address the devastating injustices caused by the War on Drugs and to finally decriminalize marijuana at the federal level.”

Marijuana’s status as a Schedule I drug has made it difficult for both medical and recreational-use businesses to operate in states where it is legal. The biggest problem is the reluctance of banks to provide services for marijuana businesses for fear that federal bank regulators might penalize them. That restricts businesses’ ability to accept credit cards, get business loans, or even just have a bank account.

As former U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman explained at NJBIA’s marijuana seminar, “If your bank has a marijuana client, every single transaction your customer engages in is a violation of federal law.”

New Jersey is already one of 31 states that has made medical marijuana legal. Senate President Stephen Sweeney has announced that the Legislature will vote to put a question on the November 2020 ballot seeking voter approval to legalize marijuana for recreational use.

Nadler’s bill, however, is unlikely to make it through Congress. Even if it passes the full House of Representatives, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell opposes legalizing marijuana.

Meanwhile, here is an outline of the MORE Act provided by Nadler.

The Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act:

  • Decriminalizes marijuana at the federal level by removing the substance from the Controlled Substances Act. This applies retroactively to prior and pending convictions, and enables states to set their own policy.
  • Requires federal courts to expunge 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% 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 legitimate cannabis-related businesses and service providers.
  • Provides non-discrimination protections for marijuana use or possession, and for prior convictions for a marijuana offense:
    • Prohibits the denial of any federal public benefit (including housing) based on the use or possession of marijuana, or prior conviction for a marijuana offense.
    • Provides 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 industry to ensure people of color and those who are economically disadvantaged are participating in the industry.