In an historic move, the Democratic-controlled U.S. House of Representatives will vote this month to pass the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment, and Expungement Act(the “MORE Act”). The Act removes cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act. Of the 99 co-sponsors in the House, 98 are Democrats.
The MORE Act effectively gets the federal government out of the marijuana policing business and will facilitate expungements for those victimized by its misguided marijuana criminalization policy. Instead, the issue would rest with state governments.
States can more democraticallyreflect local cultural norms and determine if relatively harmless substances such as cannabis should suffer prohibition with all of its implications in terms of liberty, constricted commerce and providing profits to fuel organized crime. Marijuana consumption totals over $50 billion and can generate substantial job growth.
If enacted, the MORE Act would also tax cannabis at 5% and reinvest the proceeds into the communities that suffered disproportionately from the War on Drugs. That could provide billions for communities of color across the nation to spur growth and the Act even permits the Small Business Administration to support marijuana businesses.
The Democrats also approved a similar provision in their party platform for 2020:
Democrats believe no one should be in prison solely because they use drugs. Democrats will decriminalize marijuana use and reschedule it through executive action on the federal level. We will support legalization of medical marijuana and believe states should be able to make their own decisions about recreational use. The Justice Department should not launch federal prosecutions of conduct that is legal at the state level. All past criminal convictions for cannabis use should be automatically expunged.(p. 37).
The party platform also favors diversion and treatment instead of incarceration for all drug offenses. Consequently, the MORE Act can very well constitute just the opening round in a more comprehensive unwinding of the failed War on Drugs.
Joe Biden fully supports this bold effort to finally reform marijuana laws as his campaign website makes clear: “Biden believes no one should be in jail because of cannabis use. As president, he will decriminalize cannabis use and automatically expunge prior convictions.” Biden further supports a general armistice in the War on Drugs, as he seeks to “[e]nd all incarceration for drug use alone and instead divert individuals to drug courts and treatment.” Biden, in short, promises to end the War on Drugs too.
Democratic Vice Presidential nominee Kamala Harris introduced and sponsored the MORE Act in the Senate. That bill boasts seven Democratic co-sponsors (and zero GOP co-sponsors). She stated in her recent book that “it’s past time we [dismantle] the failed war on drugs—starting with legalizing marijuana.”
In 2020, the War on Drugs finally exhausted itself, and the racial injustice that inherently accompanies it displayed itself in the police brutality that too often victimizes communities of color. It always operated as an assault on communities of color and never actually impacted wealthy white neighborhoods where drug consumption ran high. More specifically, according to a recent study: “a Black person is 3.64 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than a white person even though Black and white people use marijuana at similar rates.” Authorities do not systematically collect data regarding arrests of Latinos but all available evidence shows they too suffer disproportionate arrests. Thus, in California, our most populous state, “Hispanics accounted for nearly 42% of [cannabis] arrests, followed by Blacks, at 22%, with whites at 21%.”
Some 6.1 million citizens suffered arrest for marijuana possession over the past eight years. Such arrests can only diminish future potential and productivity. For example, students can lose financial aid eligibilityfor a drug conviction. A loss of future opportunities translates into future economic loss—a loss our entire society bears.
Any visitor to any prison knows that while we incarcerate more of our co-citizens than any other nation, non-whites make up the vast majority (70 percent) of prison populations. Latinos face three times the rate of incarceration as whites and African Americans face double the rate of Latinos.
The War on Drugs has devastated communities of color and destroyed human potential in such communities on a vast scale. The costs far outweigh any benefit and will only increase as our population becomes more diverse. Over two-thirds of US voters now want this criminal injustice ended. America can now finally reject such manifest injustice and racial brutality.
The Democratic party promises fundamental and dramatic change if it prevails in the election of 2020. Its party platform can provide leverage against every Democratic office holder. Its control of Congress will see the MORE Act passed and Joe Biden will sign it. That makes this election an historic opportunity to vote for expanded freedom and to end the racial injustice inherent in the War on Drugs.
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