Employment Law Daily Comprehensive federal marijuana reform bill unveiled by Dems
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Friday, July 26, 2019

Comprehensive federal marijuana reform bill unveiled by Dems

By Pamela Wolf, J.D.

The legislation would remove the substance from the Controlled Substances Act, provide for expungement of prior convictions, and open up funding for cannabis-related businesses and service providers.

On July 23, Representative Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) and Senator Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.) introduced the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act, which they characterized as “one of the most comprehensive marijuana reform bills ever introduced in the U.S. Congress.” The House version of the bill, H.R. 3884, has 28 Democratic and 1 Republican co-sponsors; the Senate version, S. 2227, has four co-sponsors, all of whom are Democrats.

Correcting past injustices. The legislation is intended to correct what sponsors see as the historical injustices that failed drug policies have disproportionately placed on communities of color and low-income communities by requiring resentencing and expungement of prior convictions. This would create new opportunities for people as they work to advance their careers, education, and overall quality of life.

Immigrants would also benefit from the legislation because they would no longer be subject to deportation or citizenship denial based on even a minor marijuana offense. The measure would also ensure that all benefits in the law are available to juvenile offenders.

Key highlights. Sponsors noted that the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act would:

  • Decriminalize marijuana at the federal level by removing the substance from the Controlled Substances Act. This would apply retroactively to prior and pending convictions, and enable states to set their own policy.
  • Require federal courts to expunge prior convictions, allow prior offenders to request expungement, and require courts, on motion, to conduct re-sentencing hearings for those still under supervision.
  • Authorize the assessment of a 5 percent sales tax on marijuana and marijuana products to create an Opportunity Trust Fund, which would include three grant programs:
  • The Community Reinvestment Grant Program, which would provide services to the people 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, which would provide funds for loans to assist small businesses in the marijuana industry that are owned and controlled by socially and economically disadvantaged individuals.
  • The Equitable Licensing Grant Program, which would provide funds for programs that minimize barriers to marijuana licensing and employment for the individuals most adversely impacted by the War on Drugs.
  • Open up Small Business Administration funding for legitimate cannabis-related businesses and service providers.
  • Prohibit the denial of any federal public benefit (including housing) based on the use or possession of marijuana, or prior conviction for a marijuana offense.
  • Provide that the use or possession of marijuana, or prior conviction for a marijuana offense, would have no adverse impact under the immigration laws.
  • Require the Bureau of Labor Statistics to collect data on the demographics of the industry to ensure people of color and those who are economically disadvantaged are participating in the industry.

The Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act has the support of a broad coalition of civil rights, criminal justice, drug policy, and immigration groups.

“Despite the legalization of marijuana in states across the country, those with criminal convictions for marijuana still face second-class citizenship,” Representative Nadler said in a release. “Their vote, access to education, employment, and housing are all negatively impacted. Racially motivated enforcement of marijuana laws has disproportionally impacted communities of color. It’s past time to right this wrong nationwide and work to view marijuana use as an issue of personal choice and public health, not criminal behavior.”

“Times have changed—marijuana should not be a crime,” Senator Harris said. “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. As marijuana becomes legal across the country, we must make sure everyone—especially communities of color that have been disproportionately impacted by the War on Drugs—has a real opportunity to participate in this growing industry.”

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