CannaBeat: MORE Act Could Reverse Cannabis Convictions 

The bill removes cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act and would apply retroactively to convictions.

Cannabis would be decriminalized nationwide, and cannabis charges would be re-sentenced if a new federal law is passed.

Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Memphis) and others introduced the Marijuana Opportunity and Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act last week.

The bill removes cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act, in which it is now labeled a Schedule I drug. This move would apply retroactively to prior and pending convictions. It requires federal courts to expunge prior cannabis convictions and allows prior offenders to request expungement. It also requires courts to conduct re-sentencing hearings for those still under supervision. The bill would also open up federal public benefits (like housing) to those with past cannabis convictions.

click to enlarge Steve Cohen
  • Steve Cohen

"Currently, our laws treat marijuana as more dangerous than cocaine, methamphetamine, or fentanyl," Cohen said. "This harsh policy has torn apart families and neighborhoods and disproportionately impacted communities of color."

The bill would open up Small Business Administration funding for cannabis companies and service providers. The act would create a 5-percent federal tax on cannabis products, which would create a fund to provide services to those "most adversely impacted by the War on Drugs." It would also give business loans for licenses in the cannabis industry.

Banking on Cannabis

A Senate panel heard testimony last week on the challenges cannabis companies face without access to banks.

Running cash-only businesses is a security risk for owners, and potential owners have trouble raising capital. Also, any proceeds from cannabis-related activities remain subject to U.S. anti-money-laundering laws. Bankers and cannabis company leaders told federal lawmakers that laws now hamstring what could be a massive market opportunity.

Rachel Pross, Chief Risk Officer of Maps Credit Union, said Maps is the only bank in Oregon that has served the cannabis industry since 2014.

She said a Wharton School of Business report found that, in the absence of having a bank, one in every two cannabis dispensaries were robbed or burglarized — with the average thief walking away with anywhere from $20,000 to $50,000 in a single theft.

In 2017 and 2018, her bank has received $529 million in cash deposits from cannabis companies; $169 million this year.

"That's millions of dollars that used to be carried around in backpacks and shoeboxes by legitimate, legal business owners in the state of Oregon, making them prime targets for thieves and other criminals."

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