Proponents of recreational marijuana celebrated last week when a groundbreaking federal decriminalization bill passed the House Judiciary Committee.
Sen. Kamala Harris introduced the bill this summer alongside Rep. Jerry Nadler, a fellow Democrat. The Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act, or the MORE Act — described by its sponsors as the most comprehensive reform bill to date — would decriminalize cannabis by removing it from the list included in the Controlled Substances Act. The bill would also retroactively allow for federal expungement of all past and pending convictions for marijuana possession. States would then set their own policies.
But even the strongest proponents don't think the bill has any real chance of being signed into law. Skopos Labs, a company compiling data using artificial intelligence, gives the bill a 1 percent shot at passage.
Still, Florida experts say the bill's traction is adding legitimacy to a movement both here and in other states poised to pass new marijuana laws of their own. If the bill became law, it would change the landscape of legal marijuana business and, more important, would begin to undo the effects of the war on drugs for minorities, who are disproportionately arrested for related charges.
"I'll say it again: we can't legalize marijuana without addressing the injustices to people of color caused by the War on Drugs," Harris tweeted. "My bill would do just that."
Last week, my bill to legalize marijuana passed through House committee with bipartisan support.— Kamala Harris (@SenKamalaHarris) November 26, 2019
I’ll say it again: we can't legalize marijuana without addressing the injustices to people of color caused by the War on Drugs. My bill would do just that.
Under the MORE Act, landlords and employers would be prohibited from discriminating against a potential tenant or job applicant based on their criminal record involving marijuana. And to help those affected by drug possession charges, a new 5 percent sales tax on legal marijuana products would go toward job training, legal services, and substance abuse programs, among other programs.
The Small Business Administration would also be allowed to loan money to individuals starting companies that sell marijuana. Dori Stibolt, an employment attorney in West Palm Beach, says the MORE Act would open the investment pool for "cannabusiness."
"That would mean universities and investors who have stayed away from marijuana would likely jump in and provide more dollars for investments in both business and research," she says.
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But because the MORE Act leaves so much up to each individual state, Stibolt doesn't predict a huge change in Florida's current medical marijuana industry if the bill becomes law.
"That likely means Florida's current licensing structure, which remains in flux due to ongoing legislation, would not change much," she says.
Michael Minardi, a Tampa-based attorney and campaign manager for Regulate Florida, a petition drive seeking to legalize recreational marijuana, says he was heartened by the passage of the bill. But he still isn't confident it will become law.
"I am not optimistic these bills will pass the Senate," he says, adding he's encouraged by the House vote nonetheless. "It all continues to legitimize and create acceptance for the continued push for cannabis reform on the state and federal level."