The U.S. House of Representatives is experiencing a milestone moment with the passage of a Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act. The legislation aims to end the federal prohibition on cannabis, which has also contributed to systemic racial injustice.
“Passage of the MORE Act in the House charts a path to repair and redress for the devastating toll wrought by marijuana prohibition on countless families in the U.S., disproportionately affecting Black and brown communities,” said Nicole Austin-Hillery, executive director of the U.S. program at Human Rights Watch. “The incoming Biden administration should work for the bill’s passage in the Senate and, once in office, pursue a broader overhaul of the failed ‘war on drugs.’”
Passing the MORE Act is the first time a congressional chamber has voted to end the federal prohibition of cannabis. However, it’s unlikely the act will make it past the Senate to President Donald Trump’s desk for signing — despite the fact that Trump has signaled support for cannabis legalization. Making sure the Act endures into the Biden administration will be a goal for the House. Although statements made by president-elect Joe Biden have not been supportive of federal legalization, vice president-elect Kamala Harris has suggested a Biden administration would seek decriminalization.
The City of Madison has also moved to decriminalize cannabis in recent weeks. Changes in Wisconsin’s capital city came shortly after the city of Appleton lowered its citation fees for cannabis possession. Increasingly, an ounce of cannabis or less is regarded as a non-priority for law enforcement. Significant reform, however, may be difficult to attain solely through decriminalization. Wisconsin, an agricultural state, does not have a cannabis industry, unlike every U.S. state which borders it, along with Canada.
Beyond the economic loss, the drug war has levied heavy costs on Black, brown, and poor communities. Although cannabis is no longer a major law enforcement priority, scores of people remain incarcerated on charges from an earlier, more punitive era.. According to a report by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Black people are 3.64 times more likely to be arrested for cannabis possession than their white counterparts. Over 1.25 million people were arrested for drug possession in 2019 alone.
“Marijuana prohibition has deeply racist roots,” Austin-Hillery of Human Rights Watch said. “The ball is now in the courts of the Senate and the incoming Biden administration to further racial justice by swiftly ending marijuana prohibition and repairing the harm it has caused.”