Groundbreaking legislation has taken a major step forward

click to enlarge Rep. Jerrold Nadler
Rep. Jerrold Nadler

Advocates for legalization of marijuana at the federal level are gaining more and more traction.

On Monday, the House Judiciary Committee scheduled a vote for as early as Wednesday this week, Nov. 20, on New York Democratic Rep. Jerrold Nadler's Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act. The bill would legalize marijuana at the federal level and work to undo much of the damage done by the war on drugs.

"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 press release. "Recognizing this, many states have legalized marijuana. It's now time for us to remove the criminal prohibitions against marijuana at the federal level."

click to enlarge Sen. Kamala Harris
Sen. Kamala Harris

The MORE Act would decriminalize marijuana by removing it from the Controlled Substances Act in a process known as descheduling. Marijuana is currently listed on Schedule I alongside drugs like heroin and LSD.

Nadler, along with senator and Democratic presidential candidate Kamala Harris, introduced this legislation back in July. Monday's action by the Judiciary Committee will allow for the legislation to be brought to a vote on the floor of the House. At the time of the announcement the bill had 55 co-sponsors, 54 of whom are Democrats. That level of party-line division should not be a problem in the Democrat-controlled House, but Harris' bill could face trouble in the Republican-led Senate.

A study from the Pew Research Center released earlier this month showed that 91 percent of American adults support full legalization of marijuana. Even Republicans are now in favor with 55 percent in support, according to the study.

The MORE Act, as the name suggests, does more than just decriminalize marijuana. And that's why support has fallen largely along party lines. The social equity aspects of the bill, such as overturning prior convictions, protecting immigrants who have marijuana charges against them and requiring the Bureau of Labor Statistics to track demographic data on the marijuana industry, are not popular on the right side of the aisle.

A less expansive legalization effort is also currently working its way through Congress. The Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States (STATES) Act does not include the social equity provisions of the MORE Act, which many believe makes it more attractive to Republicans.

But it's the MORE Act, sponsored by the House Judiciary Committee chairman, which has been posted for markup on the floor of the House. The bill has a long way to go before being signed into law, but it has cleared a major hurdle. A historic moment in the fight for federal legalization is upon us. ♦

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