For the first time since the drug was made illegal, the U.S. House of Representatives will vote to end the federal prohibition on marijuana. As an original co-sponsor of the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, on Friday I am proudly casting my vote for the bill to decriminalize marijuana and resolve conflicts between state and federal law that will help support Maine’s legal cannabis industry.

Thanks to the passage of Question 1 legalizing adult-use cannabis, recreational marijuana businesses are now open for business in Maine. With the recent approval of Portland’s Question F to lift the cap on the number of marijuana stores and dispensaries in the city, the opening of more new small businesses is surely on the horizon. However, since marijuana remains criminalized at the federal level, legal proprietors have had to contend with numerous hurdles that other industries do not. From installing cashless ATMs, to operating their brick-and-mortar businesses on cash alone, these absurd barriers badly hinder growth and should not exist. By removing marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act’s list of narcotics, the bipartisan MORE Act will ensure these entrepreneurs are not treated as if they are operating outside of the law.

The enduring federal criminalization of marijuana has caused needless headaches for Maine’s financial services industry, too. In one case, a banker from southern Maine told me they had to close a longtime customer’s account after learning their customer was a delivery driver for a legal marijuana producer. Because of potential federal liability, the bank lost a customer and the worker lost their trusted financial institution. Should they have to keep their earnings under a mattress?

This makes no sense. The MORE Act would promote security by ensuring transactions are done through regulated institutions, not with bags of cash. By no longer putting marijuana in the same category as heroin under the Controlled Substances Act, the MORE Act would permit federally insured financial institutions to work with cannabis businesses in Maine and in the 35 other states where medical or recreational use is legal.

Enactment of the MORE Act comes at a critical moment, as our state faces a significant revenue shortfall caused by the ongoing pandemic. Despite the passage of two comprehensive COVID-19 relief packages in the House of Representatives, the Republican-controlled Senate has not agreed to send aid back to the states or new stimulus checks to Americans. Meanwhile, Maine’s recreational marijuana market yielded a whopping $1.4 million in sales in its first month alone, offering much-needed tax revenues. This legislation would provide our state with additional resources and help offset painful cuts to municipal services.

The MORE Act will further legitimize our legal marijuana industry by creating access to federal grants and loans. For the first time, Small Business Administration loans would be available to cannabis businesses and local governments could apply for grants to enact licensing programs. There is no good reason why these programs are off limits to an industry that is legal and where sales are booming amid a major economic downturn.

It is important to acknowledge that the criminalization of marijuana was a mistake that predominantly affected Black Americans – creating sometimes-lifelong barriers to jobs, education and housing. The MORE Act aims to correct some of the injustices of America’s racially motivated drug policies by expunging marijuana-related criminal records. The landmark legislation will also establish a Cannabis Justice Office to oversee a Community Reinvestment Grant Program and an Opportunity Trust Fund to lift up those who have been hardest hit by our failed 50-year war on drugs.

The bipartisan MORE Act will also allow doctors who are affiliated with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to prescribe medical marijuana in states where it is legal, including Maine. It’s long past the point that returning service members who qualify for access to medical cannabis can legally receive treatment through their VA provider.

One-third of all Americans live where marijuana is legal for adult recreational use. It’s time the government caught up. Since Maine’s 2016 referendum, I have fought to create clear federal pathways for states like ours. Today we take a big step forward. We must end cannabis prohibition nationwide with the MORE Act.

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