This month, the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives will vote on legalizing marijuana federally. It would remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), where it’s currently classified as a schedule I illegal drug. Schedule I is the most restrictive category that deems the substances as having a high probability of abuse and addiction with no medical benefit. Cocaine and oxycodone are considered schedule II drugs.  Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) sent an email to members that said the house will take up the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act during the “September work period.” An official date for the floor vote has not been announced.  It will be the first time any chamber of Congress has ever voted to remove marijuana from the CSA. 

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The Proposal

The bill would deschedule cannabis, expunging the records of those with prior marijuana convictions and arrests.  It would also impose a 5% sales tax on cannabis, creating an Opportunity Trust Fund that would reinvest the money back into communities who were hit hardest by the criminalization of the plant. States would still have to vote individually on legalization under the MORE Act.  The fund would “include grant programs administered by the Department of Justice and the Small Business Administration to support individuals who have been adversely affected by the War on Drugs, provide assistance to socially and economically disadvantaged small business owners, and minimize barriers to marijuana licensing and employment,” according to Clyburn’s email.  The bill’s timing is apt, as the US reckons with its systemic racism and people nationwide continue to call for racial justice. It’s no secret that communities of color have been disproportionately afflicted by the war on drugs, which the Nixon administration declared in the 1970s.

The War on “Drugs”

Top Nixon aide John Ehrlichman came clean years later about the administration’s racist intentions for starting the drug war. "The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people," Ehrlichman told journalist Dan Baum in 1994. "You understand what I'm saying? We knew we couldn't make it illegal to be either against the war or blacks, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. "We could arrest their leaders. raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did." The Marijuana Policy Project said in a statement, “This bill would be a major step forward in criminal justice reform as we work to address injustices and inequalities in our criminal justice system.”  The MORE Act has a strong chance of passing the House, but it’s less likely to pass in the current Republican-controlled Senate, where Majority Leader Mitch McConnel remains staunchly opposed. But a 2020 Democratic Takeover of the Senate is likely, according to political forecasting website FiveThirtyEight. The bill’s lead sponsor in the Senate is Democratic vice-presidential nominee Sen. Kamala Harris. Eleven states and the District of Columbia have legalized the substance for recreational use, and 33 have legalized it for medical use. Two-thirds of Americans support the federal legalization of marijuana.

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