Two Federal Marijuana Legalization Bills Introduced

   

While I, like many Americans, tire of partisan politics, I am always proud to cast my vote every two years for Democratic Congressman Earl Blumenauer. I may not agree with the good congressman on everything, I am very appreciative of his willingness to work towards ending the failed and harmful policy of marijuana prohibition. He looks for innovative ways to appeal to his fellow members of Congress, including reaching across the aisle to Republicans. He is willing to listen to and to learn and he provides sensible, pragmatic ideas to move our country forward towards a day when we finally end this senseless War on Marijuana.

At one time, it seemed that Representative Blumenauer was shouting about the evils of prohibition all alone, but he has kept working to appeal to as many elected officials as possible. He has helped garner more and more votes for sensible amendments that have ended federal funding of medical marijuana prosecutions in medical marijuana states as well as easing restrictions that have prohibited states from implementing industrial hemp regulations. He and Grover Norquist don’t agree on much, but he’s worked with the conservative anti-tax icon to fight against the unfair taxation of cannabis businesses. Banking remains a major obstacle for the cannabis industry, so of course, Congressman Blumenauer is there to stand up for reasonable banking regulations.

Congressman Blumenauer was recently joined by Colorado Congressman Jared Polis in announcing the filing of two marijuana legalization measures. While neither is likely to pass and I’ll quibble a bit with the notion that a 25% federal excise tax is needed (as such a tax could very well hinder the ability to fully regulate the market), these two proposals move the debate forward at a time when we are seeing the momentum for legalization continue to swell across the country. Thanks to Representatives Blumenauer and Polis, we can be sure that we have allies in Congress that understand the horrible consequences marijuana prohibition has on our country, especially on people of color and those battling poverty. I encourage supporters of cannabis law reform to whole-heartedly support the efforts of these two great Congressman who are no longer being just brave, they are merely representing the will of the voters.

Below is the official press release announcing the federal legalization bills.

HouseRepSeal

UNITED STATES HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES

***PRESS RELEASE***

Rep. Blumenauer and Rep. Polis Introduce Bills to End the Federal Prohibition and Tax Marijuana

Washington, DC – Today, Representative Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Representative Jared Polis (D-CO) introduced two bills that together would legalize and tax marijuana at the federal level. Representative Blumenauer’s legislation, H.R. 1014, the Marijuana Tax Revenue Act of 2015, creates a federal excise tax on non-medical marijuana sales and moves this quickly growing industry out of the shadows. Representative Polis’s legislation, H.R. 1013, the Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act, removes marijuana from the schedule set by the Controlled Substances Act; transitions marijuana oversight from the jurisdiction of the Drug Enforcement Agency to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; and regulates marijuana like alcohol by inserting into the section of the U.S. Code governing “intoxicating liquors.”

More than 213 million people live in a state or jurisdiction that allows the some form of legal use of marijuana. Twenty-three states currently allow for medical marijuana, while four states–Colorado, Washington, Oregon, and Alaska–and the District of Columbia recently legalized the recreational use of small amounts of marijuana. Eleven additional states have passed laws allowing the use of low-THC forms of marijuana to treat certain medical conditions.

Following federal legalization, the Marijuana Tax Revenue Act would impose a federal excise tax on the sale of marijuana for non-medical purposes as well as apply an occupational tax for marijuana businesses. The bill would establish civil and criminal penalties for those who fail to comply, like those in place for the tobacco industry.  The bill also requires the IRS to produce periodic studies of the marijuana industry and to issue recommendations to Congress. It phases in an excise tax on the sale by a producer (generally the grower) to the next stage of production (generally the processor creating the useable product).  This tax is initially set at 10% and rises over time to 25% as the legal market displaces the black market.  Medical marijuana is exempt from this tax.

The Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act would remove marijuana from the schedule set by the Controlled Substances Act; transition marijuana oversight from the jurisdiction of the Drug Enforcement Agency to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; and regulate marijuana like alcohol by inserting into the section of the U.S. Code that governs “intoxicating liquors.”

“It’s time for the federal government to chart a new path forward for marijuana.” said Mr. Blumenauer.  “Together these bills create a federal framework to legalize, regulate and tax marijuana, much like we treat alcohol and tobacco. The federal prohibition of marijuana has been a failure, wasting tax dollars and ruining countless lives. As more states move to legalize marijuana as Oregon, Colorado, Washington and Alaska have done, it’s imperative the federal government become a full partner in building a workable and safe framework.”

“Over the past year, Colorado has demonstrated that regulating marijuana like alcohol takes money away from criminals and cartels, grows our economy, and keeps marijuana out of the hands of children,” said Mr. Polis. “While President Obama and the Justice Department have allowed the will of voters in states like Colorado and 22 other jurisdictions to move forward, small business owners, medical  marijuana patients, and others who follow state laws still live with the fear that a new administration – or this one—could reverse course and turn them into criminals. It is time for us to replace the failed prohibition with a regulatory system that works and let states and municipalities decide for themselves if they want, or don’t want, to have legal marijuana within their borders.”

National trends reflect state efforts.  More than 46% of people 18 and older have tried marijuana at least once and public opinion research reveals more than half of the U.S. population supports legalization. Yet even as states and local governments have taken the lead in finding legal arrangements for marijuana, federal law classifies it among the most dangerous illegal drugs. The enforcement of these laws wastes federal resources and ruins lives. Individuals, states, and marijuana businesses are trapped in a patchwork of conflicting state and federal laws.

It is time for Congress to end the federal prohibition on marijuana, remove it from the Controlled Substances Act, and create a sensible tax and regulatory framework. This represents a unique opportunity to save ruined lives, wasted enforcement and prison costs, while simultaneously helping to create a new industry, with new jobs and revenues that will improve the federal budget outlook.

 

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Anthony Johnson

Anthony, a longtime cannabis law reform advocate, was Chief Petitioner and co-author of Measure 91, Oregon’s ca