Tennessee lawmaker pushes federal bill to decriminalize marijuana and expunge past convictions

Tennessee lawmaker pushes federal bill to decriminalize marijuana and expunge past convictions

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - A landmark bill making its way through Congress would legalize marijuana on the federal level and remove it from the list of federally-controlled substances.

For some Memphians, a conviction for marijuana possession holds them back from getting a job and providing for their families.

Congressman Steve Cohen, D-Memphis, is leading the charge to pass the bill, which would decriminalize cannabis on a federal level and help those previously impacted.

This week, the House Judiciary Committee overwhelmingly approved the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act.

“It will also set up a tax system on marijuana where marijuana would be taxed on the federal level, and the taxes would go into a fund that would help people, particularly African Americans, but any particular group that was penalized adversely by the war on drugs,” said Cohen.

The MORE Act would also expunge prior federal court convictions for marijuana offenses.

Cohen appeared at his “Congress On Your Corner” event in Memphis Friday, telling WMC these convictions have negatively impacted the lives of Memphians.

“Stops them from getting scholarships and federal housing and jobs often,” said Cohen. “We need to go back in a restorative way in the African American community, and that would be important for Memphis and important for my constituents.”

Josh Spickler with the criminal justice rights organization Just City says the bill would prevent more people from entering the cycle of the criminal justice system and have far-reaching positive effects.

“The federal government leading on this issue is really important,” said Spickler. “This could be a really, really big deal. Getting marijuana out of the criminal legal system and into the public health realm where it belongs would be huge. It would lead to a smaller criminal justice system, which is what we need.”

The MORE Act now heads to the full House for a vote before it’s taken up by the majority Republican Senate.

Both Spickler and Cohen himself expressed doubts that the bill would pass the Senate, but they say this first step is monumental regardless.

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