Representatives Craig and Omar sign federal cannabis decriminalization efforts | Status


Minnesota MPs Angie Craig and Ilhan Omar are co-sponsoring a bill that would decriminalize cannabis at the federal level, remove marijuana from the controlled substances list, and invest in communities disproportionately affected by the drug war.

The Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act of 2021, also known as the MORE Act, would also eliminate federal penalties, resolve criminal records, and create social justice programs that focus on repairing damage to individuals and communities affected by decades of criminalization .

“For decades the United States has wasted hundreds of billions of dollars enforcing outdated drug laws that do not make our communities safer or safer – while targeting color communities in particularly unfair and biased ways,” Craig said in a statement.

If passed, the law would follow the example of 27 states and the District of Columbia that have decriminalized small amounts of marijuana. Eighteen states, two territories, and the District of Columbia have legalized small amounts of adult marijuana for recreational use. Minnesota is not one of those states and lists the drug as a List 1 controlled substance. Possessing or selling more than 42.5 grams of marijuana is a crime under Minnesota law.

History in the Minnesota House of Representatives made history in May when a bill to legalize recreational marijuana first reached parliament and passed Bill 72-61. But the bill died in the Republican-run Senate.

However, if the MORE law is passed at the federal level, penalties at the state level may still be in place if the drug is not fully legalized. Nonetheless, some democratic legislators see the draft law as an essential step not only towards freedom of leisure, but also as a restorative justice system.

The MORE Act was passed by an overwhelming majority in the House of Representatives last year, but made no progress in the Senate, where an accompanying bill also died. A second Senate bill is expected later this year with the support of Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, DN.Y., and Sens. Cory Booker, DN.J., and Ron Wyden, D-Ore.

When the previous iteration of the bill passed, MP Ilhan Omar called it a “long overdue move to bring restorative justice to those devastated by the war on drugs. … Tragically, cannabis criminalization has disproportionately influenced color communities for far too long and ruined countless lives. “

This year, the revised bill includes stronger social justice measures that address the intergenerational impact of cannabis crime.

Decriminalization is a step before full legalization. Instead, the MORE Act removes existing criminal penalties – marijuana would remain illegal, but the federal criminal justice system would not prosecute anyone for possession of the drug below the specified amount. Even if decriminalized, state law enforcement agencies could still impose civil fines, such as: B. Driving under the influence or using the drug in a public setting.

Under the scheduling system, the federal government classifies marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug, which means it has no medicinal value and high potential for abuse. This puts marijuana on a par with heroin and ecstasy.

The first step that would be taken at the federal level if the bill were to become law would be to remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act, which would apply retrospectively to previous and pending convictions. The bill would also require federal courts to overturn previous convictions, allow former offenders to request their overturning, and require courts to hold hearings to re-convict those who are still under custody.

While recreational marijuana use is still illegal in Minnesota, medical use was legalized in 2014 when Governor Mark Dayton signed law legalizing the drug for the treatment of nine serious medical conditions.

“Minnesota’s medical cannabis program is already legal,” said Scott Smith, public information officer for the Minnesota Department of Health. “Changes at the federal level would not have a material impact on our program.” Minnesota’s medical cannabis program began shortly after medical marijuana was legalized in 2014.

In states that have already decriminalized or legalized marijuana, the drug’s criminal classification has had an impact on marijuana policies at the federal level – many state-owned marijuana companies are forced to act as cash-only companies because banks are nervous about dealing with companies that go bankrupt according to federal law .

This “lemonade stand” effect also makes it impossible for companies to claim a tax deduction. Federal decriminalization would make it easier for these companies to partner with banks, and a marijuana tax could generate millions in government revenue.

States that have legalized marijuana have seen a growing market for the drug – legal cannabis sales totaled $ 20 billion in 2020 and will more than double by 2025, according to the bill. To address a growing market for the drug, the bill would also open up Small Business Administration funding for cannabis-related businesses and authorize the imposition of a 5% sales tax on marijuana and marijuana products to create an Opportunity Trust Fund create. would support grant programs to “reverse the harmful effects of the war on drugs”.

A 2020 report by the American Civil Liberties Union found that blacks are more likely than whites to be arrested for possession of marijuana in any state, even if blacks and whites used the drug relatively similarly. Black men receive 13.1% longer drug sentences than white men, and Latinos are nearly 6.5 times more likely to be federally sentenced for cannabis possession than non-Hispanic whites by law.

Less than a fifth of cannabis entrepreneurs currently identify as minority groups, but the authors of the MORE Act hope to address these racial differences by providing small business credit and technical assistance to socially and economically disadvantaged groups.

“The MORE Act is an important first step in legalizing recreational marijuana in a way that makes sense to our local communities while allowing legitimate businesses to contribute to our economy and tax base,” said Craig. “I am proud to be backing this long overdue bill again and look forward to working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to bring it into effect.”

Ashley Hackett is a Washington, DC correspondent for MinnPost.