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Passing the MORE Act would create a necessary form of federal reparations for Black Americans.
By Jordan Wilson
The case for legalizing marijuana has made it to Congress once again.
On April 1st, the House of Representatives voted to decriminalize marijuana through the MORE Act, formally known as the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act. If passed by the full Congress, the bill would decriminalize cannabis at the federal level. W
While the House passed the measure once before, and it was advocated by the likes of now Vice-President Kamala Harris, the MORE Act never made it to the Senate. Despite fierce opposition from Congressional Republicans, the bill’s allies are enduring another attempt to rally support for legalizing the plant.
Senate Republicans, and frankly any opponent of the measure, should think more of the bill than seeing it as another right-or-left political issue.
To date, cannabis criminalization has had a more negative impact on Black Americans than any other racial group. Reformists have successfully advocated the issue by passing measures like California’s Proposition 64 and the Illinois Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act, but decriminalizing cannabis statewide is not enough.
Federal decriminalization would open doors for Black progress
The MORE Act would automatically expunge marijuana arrests, charges, and convictions at no cost to the individual based on federal offenses. Certainly, the MORE Act would help Black Americans evade the carceral system for the purposes of gaining education and employment.
The bill would also create opportunities for us to pursue the legal cannabis market without the threat of facing jail time for nonviolent, federal marijuana offenses. Cannabis-related earnings and revenue, triggered by the bill’s passing, would serve as a dynamic form of reparations for the egregious acts of social and economic injustice committed against Black Americans, from chattel slavery to modern slavery—better known as mass incarceration.
Though Black Americans were formally freed from slavery in 1863, anti-drug propaganda of the 20 and 21st centuries held us captive to racist views about drug use in the United States. Present-day marijuana laws are some of the most pronounced descendants of Nixon’s racist “war on drugs” and the Clinton administration’s zero-tolerance attitude toward nonviolent drug offenses.
A way to reconcile
The rise of prescription opioid abuse changed America’s perception of marijuana over the last two decades.
Because many state and local legislatures have recognized the economic and health benefits of marijuana use, they have de-criminalized the substance. According to the Brookings Institute, arrests have fallen dramatically in decriminalized states over the last few years. The economic effects of legal cannabis are apparent; the Tax Foundation estimates the market for legal marijuana could be worth as much as $30 billion by 2023.
Mass incarceration has destroyed more Black communities than one could count. De-criminalizing marijuana is an essential, initial step in reconciling this ugly reality. Passing the bill could lead to more wealth-generating policies for Black Americans, like direct-payment reparations from cannabis revenue.
Black Americans of every socioeconomic class deserve to rejoice in the de-stigmatization of marijuana just as Wall Street and Big Cannabis corporations have. Since the MORE Act’s revival this year, cannabis stocks have skyrocketed, such as Alternative Harvest ETF, which rose more than 10% in March when the bill was introduced.
It’s time to pass the MORE Act
While the legal cannabis market is ripe for some entrepreneurs and investors, many Black Americans face systemic challenges in setting up shop. Dispensary and cultivation costs can range from $750,000 to $1m. Federal de-criminalization would serve as an endorsement to banks and state and local governments to create more equitable pathways for start-up dollars and licenses.
Should Congress fail to decriminalize marijuana, Black Americans will remain disenfranchised from the legal cannabis market. “Onerous regulation prevents the creation of a capital market (for Black Americans),” says Robert Johnson, a Chicago-based Cannabis Attorney from Greenspoon Marder LLP.
Considering this, it is time for today’s Congress to get on one accord and dismantle America’s archaic and racist marijuana laws.
Passing the MORE Act would be a meaningful step toward undoing the social destruction that slavery and, eventually, mass incarceration created in the Black community.
Marijuana legalization in the U.S. Congress is not a matter of political quarreling; it is a civil and economic rights issue. Congress would reject the opportunity to atone for America’s grave abuses against Black Americans by rejecting this measure. The entire Congress must adopt a moral conscious and pass the MORE Act.
Jordan Wilson is the Co-Founder of Politicking. Born in Gary, Indiana, Jordan was raised in politics and public service. Through Politicking, she aims to promote voting and political engagement through entrepreneurship and tech, among young Americans. She has been featured in Forbes Magazine, the New York Amsterdam News, and Democracy Chronicles for her work as a civic tech entrepreneur. Additionally, she works to promote the ideals of entrepreneurship and civic engagement as a Scholar in Residence at Harvard College, and as a member of the Democracy Entrepreneurs Network and the JFK Library, New Frontier’s Network Steering Committee. Jordan has written extensively on law, economics, and politics in the Grio and the Gary/Chicago Crusader. She is currently pursuing her J.D. at Boston College Law School, where she served as a Fellow with the Clough Center for the Study of Constitutional Democracy. Jordan holds a B.A. in Political Science from Howard University, where she became a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.