The MORE Act Would Reduce Prison Time and Pump Billions into the Federal Budget, Says the Congressional Budget Office
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The chances that the MORE Act, which was recently passed by the U.S. House of Representatives, will make its way through the U.S. Senate and get signed into law by President Donald Trump are approximately zero.
But depending on the outcome of the Senate races in Georgia, that scenario could quickly change in 2021. With a Democrat-controlled U.S. Senate and a new president who has publicly endorsed decriminalizing marijuana, the passage of the act would suddenly become very likely.
But no matter how things play out in the political landscape, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) recently did everyone a favor by analyzing the projected practical impact of decriminalizing marijuana. To put it mildly, that impact would be substantial.
The MORE Act would result in the early release of thousands of prisoners.
Studies show that authorities do not apply current marijuana laws evenly in all neighborhoods. For example, they are much more likely to arrest people of color than white people for cannabis possession. And arrest numbers have remained high even as states have legalized marijuana.
The CBO, which is non-partisan, evaluated the MORE Act's impact on the current prison population. (MORE stands for Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act). The CBO estimates that "thousands of current inmates would be released earlier than under current law. In the future, decriminalization also would reduce the number of people in federal prisons and the amount of time federal inmates serve."
How big of a reduction? Between 2021 and 2030, CBO estimates that the Act would result in cuts of prison time "by 73,000 person-years, among existing and future inmates."
That number is staggering but not completely surprising considering just how many people police lock up each year for possessing marijuana even as states continue to make it legal within their borders. A recent American Civil Liberties Union study reported six million marijuana-related arrests between 2010 and 2018 alone.
The impact on the federal budget
The monetary aspect of the MORE Act might entice more support from conservative members of Congress. And the numbers, just as they have been at the state level, are gigantic.
Working with the staff of the Joint Committee on Taxation, the CBO estimated the MORE Act would lead to increased federal revenues of about $13.7 billion from 2021 to 2030 through the creation of business income, compliance, and occupational taxes.
One of those taxes would be an excise tax on cannabis products manufactured or imported into the U.S., with the revenue deposited in the Opportunity Trust Fund that the MORE Act establishes. That money will provide support for neighborhoods impacted by the War on Drugs.
Specifically, the CBO expects spending of about $3 billion on job training, legal aid, and other services for people harmed by the War on Drugs. Also, they project the MORE Act would lead to the Small Business Administration spending $2.7 billion from 2021 to 2030 on “state and local grants to make loans to cannabis-related small businesses that operate in the cannabis industry and help governments develop cannabis-licensing rules.”
That’s just a sample of the potential impact of decriminalizing marijuana. And while it likely won’t happen in 2020, the Senate races in Georgia could flip the political calculations for 2021 in one night.
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