The House recently passed the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment Expungement Act of 2019. Also referred to as the MORE Act of 2019, the bill is concerned with decriminalizing marijuana federally and could have several social and financial impacts. While this is a historic move for the federal government, it's unlikely that the bill will pass in the Republican-led Senate, as the legislation only received 5 republican votes in the House (it received 222 democratic votes).
What 'Decriminalizing Marijuana' Would Mean
Currently, the Controlled Substances Act lists marijuana as a Schedule I drug. These are considered the most serious substances, as they have a high potential for abuse and no accepted medical use.
The MORE Act would remove marijuana from the Schedule I category and instead list it as a substance that does not belong to any schedule. Thus, if it is no longer a scheduled controlled substance, certain conduct, such as possession, use, or manufacture, would not result in criminal charges.
Currently, federal drug crimes involving marijuana are harshly penalized. For instance, a first-time possession charge can result in up to 1 year of incarceration and/or a fine of up to $1,000. The manufacture, distribution, or dispensing of less than 50 kilograms of marijuana is punishable by up to 5 years in prison and/or a fine of up to $250,000.
Social Impacts of Marijuana Decriminalization
If marijuana were to be decriminalized at the federal level, that would lead to substantial social impacts. Marijuana-related offenses disproportionately affect people of color. According to the bill's text, a person of color is more likely to be arrested for possession of marijuana than their white counterpart.
Also, a federal conviction for a marijuana-related offense can have debilitating effects on the individual. They might find it difficult to get a job, find a place to live or qualify for government benefits. Often, this leads to a cycle of crime that the person is unable to get out of. And because arrests and conviction rates are higher for people of color, minority families and communities are negatively impacted.
Decriminalizing marijuana is a way to address these social injustices. Not only would the MORE Act remove criminal penalties, but it would also establish programs and services to help individuals with substance abuse problems get the treatment they need. Providing programs that treat underlying issues can often be more effective at reducing recidivism than incarceration.
Expungement and Reduced Sentences
If enacted, the MORE Act would require federal courts to review past marijuana cases and expunge marijuana-related convictions and arrests. Essentially, an expungement removes the information from the individual's criminal record and can only be released under limited circumstances.
When a person's conviction is removed from their record, they can lawfully say that they have never been convicted of an offense. Thus, social barriers are removed, allowing them a second chance at life.
Financial Impacts of Marijuana Decriminalization
According to the text of the MORE Act, every year, it costs around $3.6 billion to prosecute marijuana-related crimes. Decriminalization would result in significant savings.
Additionally, legal cannabis at the state level rakes in about $9.5 billion annually. Imposing a tax on that revenue would provide the government with substantial funds to invest in much-needed social programs, such as drug abuse treatment and job training, providing greater opportunities for more people and potentially reducing drug use, joblessness, and homelessness.
Marijuana Laws at the State Level
Although marijuana is still illegal federally, at the state level, decriminalization and legalization of the substance have gained traction. Oregon legalized marijuana in 2015. Currently, 15 states allow recreational use of marijuana for adults 21 years of age and older. Several other states are considering similar legislation.
Although the MORE Act is not a law, the fact that the bill passed in the House is a huge step forward and signifies a potential shift in the "war on drugs." At Baxter Harder, LLC, our team in Bend, OR, remains current on updates in state and federal laws, as we know that these changes can have substantial impacts on criminal cases. Staying up-to-date allows us to provide the legal representation our clients need.
If you have been charged with a drug crime, contact us at (541) 238-9210 for help navigating your case.