The House Judiciary Committee will mark up a bill Wednesday to decriminalize marijuana, expunge convictions, and make it easier for people harmed by the war on drugs to enter the pot industry, Chairman Rep. Jerry Nadler announced Monday.
The Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act, which has a companion measure sponsored in the Senate by Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), would remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act, retroactively apply the removal to past and pending drug convictions, and allow states to set their own pot policies.
The idea is to end laws that have fueled the mass incarceration of minorities, and to try to help people who have been harmed most by the drug war. It would do this by expunging convictions, beefing up support systems to help people reintegrate with society and get treatment for substance use problems. It would also try to help people of color catch up in the growing pot industry where they have been having a difficult time getting a foothold -- in part because of past drug convictions.
"Our marijuana laws disproportionately harm individuals and communities of color, leading to convictions that damage job prospects, access to housing, and the ability to vote," Nadler said in a statement. "Recognizing this, many states have legalized marijuana. It’s now time for us to remove the criminal prohibitions against marijuana at the federal level."
The bill would mandate that federal courts expunge prior convictions, and allow cannabis convicts to request expungement. People already doing time or on parole could also request re-sentencing hearings.
The measure would create a five percent sales tax on pot and pot products to fund several programs to further the overall goals under the umbrella of something called the Opportunity Trust Fund.
It would include three grant programs: the Community Reinvestment Grant Program to provide "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 to loan money to small businesses "in the marijuana industry that are owned and controlled by socially and economically disadvantaged individuals;" and the Equitable Licensing Grant Program to "minimize barriers to marijuana licensing and employment for the individuals most adversely impacted by the War on Drugs."
It would also open federal Small Business Administration funding to cannabis businesses.
One other aspect of the bill is an attempt to remove some of the stigma of drug convictions that can hobble people's efforts to get work and housing. It would bar the denial of federal public benefits based on marijuana convictions, and stipulate that marijuana offenses can have no adverse impact under immigration law.
"Our federal cannabis policies have been rooted in the past for far too long. As states continue to modernize how we regulate cannabis, Congress has a responsibility to ensure that our policies are fair, equitable, and inclusive," said Rep. Barbara Lee, (D-Calif.), a cosponsor.
The measure would also have huge impacts on financing the cannabis industry, which has been barred from the federal banking system and plagued by uncertainty.
Its prospects in the Senate are unclear. Although Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has supported legislation to help his home state's hemp industry, and has supported some criminal justice reforms, Harris' version of the bill in the upper chamber has just five cosponsors, including 2020 rivals Cory Booker and Elizabeth Warren.