The House passes the MORE Act, but could do more for America

James Lacefield, Opinion Editor

The Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act was passed in the House on April 1st by a slim bipartisan margin. Intended to decriminalize marijuana on a federal level, as well as expunge the records of those convicted of marijuana-related crimes in the past, the MORE act has, of course, been met with some heavy opposition. Many political figures, especially Republicans, have cited larger concerns, such as the conflict in Ukraine or the worrying state of the economy, for their opposition to this bill, while others have attacked the mere thought of legalizing a Schedule I drug. While there are legitimate concerns about the legalization of vices such as marijuana, there are also some major benefits. The MORE Act also proposes the regulation of cannabis products and the implementation of an 8% excise tax, resulting in a safer market for consumers and increased revenue for the government. However, the MORE Act is expected to fail in the Senate, as senators may be preparing to reintroduce their own marijuana legislation, the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity (CAO) Act, which would levy much higher taxes, 25%, on the sale of cannabis products than the House’s proposal. Either the MORE or CAO acts would federally decriminalize marijuana and uplift communities targeted the most by the decades-long War on Drugs, but why stop there?

Both bills would certainly expand the freedom of adult Americans to consume cannabis if they so choose, much the same as tobacco or alcohol, but neglect the criminality of other narcotics such as cocaine, methamphetamines, or opioids. If Americans are truly free, then why is it illegal to put whatever chemicals we choose into our own bodies, even if they are harmful or addictive? Alcohol and tobacco are legally consumed every day by millions of Americans, yet both are proven to have severe health risks and can be abused or become addictive. Marijuana may soon be decriminalized, as it has been in several states already, yet it can also impair an individual’s judgment and motor skills. Other drugs are commonly used for many of the same reasons as alcohol, tobacco, or cannabis, either for self-medication or as part of a social gathering.

Obviously, I am not condoning or encouraging the use of any harmful or impairing substances, including alcohol, tobacco, or marijuana, as such vices are notoriously linked to many health issues. However, they do have legitimate uses in moderation. Even illegal drugs such as methamphetamines and heroin are linked to legitimate medications. The fact of the matter is that, though there are risks to consuming any of these vices, legal or illegal, it is the individual’s decision to do so, not the government’s. But, the government has taken a steadfast position in opposition to drugs of any kind. The ‘just-say-no’ policy of the War on Drugs has left the nation in a flood of illicit drugs, street crime, and organized smuggling, all for the sake of governing the contents of Americans’ bloodstreams.

In contrast, look at Portugal’s stance on drug use. In 2001, Portugal became the first nation in the world to decriminalize possession of all drugs, opting for public health rather than a criminal justice-oriented approach to the national drug problem. Anyone found to be in possession of narcotics, rather than being given a criminal charge, simply had their cases dismissed if they were a low-risk/first-time individual, or directed to non-mandatory counseling if they were a high-risk/repeat individual. There was no criminal stigma associated with drug use. Rather, it was treated as an individual health issue, and people were given humane, effective treatments for their chemical addictions.

So what does Portugal have to show for its novel approach to illicit drugs? Their drug abuse rates are lower than the European Union average, their prisons are no longer filled with nonviolent offenders, police resources are no longer wasted on drug-related incidents, and drug-related deaths have consistently fallen in Portugal over the past 20 years, while they have steadily risen in the rest of the EU.

The MORE Act is a step in the right direction for America. The decriminalization of marijuana will reduce the strain on our already overworked criminal justice system, increase tax revenue, and allow for a safely regulated consumer market, but it is not enough. If we want real results in the War on Drugs, we should start using field-tested tactics. It’s time to act like adults and treat addiction for what it is, a public health crisis in need of public health response.