Sure, there have been cannabis legalization bills proposed in the House before. But never have they been sponsored by the chairperson of the congressional judiciary committee. On Tuesday, that changed when New York Representative and judiciary committee chair Jerry Nadler announced the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act. Nadler was joined in the presentation of the proposed legislation by Senator Kamala Harris, a former California attorney general who is currently one of the leading candidates for Democratic presidential nominee in 2020.
Momentum is growing on Capitol Hill when it comes to federal cannabis legalization. Last week, the Senate scheduled a hearing on the SAFE Act, which would allow businesses operating within the bounds of their state laws access to national banks.
“Times have changed — marijuana should not be a crime,” said Harris. “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.”
The MORE Act seeks to remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act, and would allow states to enact their own regulations as they are able to do with alcohol. Additionally, it would establish processes for expungement of past marijuana convictions, and protect individuals in federal housing and those seeking citizenship from discrimination based on their association with the drug.
A five percent tax on cannabis would also be instituted by the proposed legislation, to be used for opportunity grants for disadvantaged communities. Those grants would cover funds for employment training, business loans, and legal aid for those with prior cannabis-related convictions, among other budget items.
This isn’t the first time Harris has co-sponsored marijuana legislation. Last year, the senator’s name was on fellow 2020 hopeful Senator Corey Booker’s Marijuana Justice Act. That bill is similar, but lacking some of the Nadler proposal’s emphasis on connecting POC communities with cannabis entrepreneurship resources. Booker re-introduced the bill in February, and it has been referred to the judiciary committee. White House hopeful Elizabeth Warren also proposed legalization of cannabis in her twice-introduced Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States Act, which was also referred and stands in the judiciary committee’s docket.
Harris’ 2019 memoir The Truths We Hold also spoke to her view of the issue as one of social justice: “These racial disparities are staggering and unconscionable,” Harris writes. “We need to legalize marijuana and regulate it.”
But the politician has not always been so gung ho about cannabis regulation. Indeed, it was only five years ago when, as California’s attorney general, she laughed off reporters’ questions about the viability of legalizing weed. But now, the ex-prosecutor has even gone on hip-hop talk radio show The Breakfast Club to talk about having smoked cannabis herself in the past. What was meant to come across as a light-hearted moment, however, had interesting repercussions.
“Half my family’s from Jamaica, are you kidding me?” Harris said when asked if she’d partaken in the drug in the past.