U.S. lawmakers on Thursday introduced a package of marijuana reform bills aimed at protecting and preserving existing state-based programs while creating a framework for the federal regulation of cannabis.
Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, and Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Oregon, announced the “Path to Marijuana Reform,” a bipartisan package of three related bills that address issues such as taxation, banking, civil forfeiture, descheduling, decriminalization, research, individual protections and regulation. Included in the package is the reintroduction of legislation from Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colorado, to regulate marijuana like alcohol.
“This is the most comprehensive package that’s (yet) been advanced,” Blumenauer told The Cannabist. While some other marijuana-related bills have been introduced to get at portions of the issue, “this is an opportunity to have the big picture,” he said.
The Path to Marijuana Reform includes the following bills, according to the announcement from Wyman and Blumenauer:
The Small Business Tax Equity Act — Create an exception to Internal Revenue Code section 280E that would allow businesses compliant with state laws to claim deductions and credits associated with the sale of marijuana. Currently, under 280E, people and businesses cannot claim deductions or credits for the sale of Schedule I or Schedule II substances. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, is a cosponsor of Wyden’s Senate bill and Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Florida, is sponsoring companion legislation in the House.
Responsibly Addressing the Marijuana Policy Gap Act — Remove federal penalties and civil asset forfeiture for individuals and businesses complying with state law; ensure access to banking, bankruptcy protection, research and advertising; expunge the criminal records for certain marijuana-related offenses; end requirement for residents of marijuana-legal states to take a marijuana drug test for positions in the federal civil service; and ease barriers for medical marijuana research.
Marijuana Revenue and Regulation Act — Remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act; impose an excise tax regime on marijuana products; allow for the permitting for marijuana businesses; and regulate marijuana in a manner similar to alcohol. Polis is sponsoring a portion of this legislation in the House, the Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act.
The legislative package is the latest in a series of marijuana law reform put forth by federal legislators. Blumenauer and Polis launched the inaugural Congressional Cannabis Caucus earlier this year with Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-California, and Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska.
The caucus members have said they intend to advance congressional action on cannabis.
A couple of other marijuana-related bills have been introduced thus far.
Blumenauer said he’s hopeful the legislation could move forward.
The bills likely will be tucked into larger legislation, allowing for the opportunity for a wide variety of people to be engaged, sign onto reform areas of interest and suggest changes of their own, he said.
“And I’m optimistic these are things that can happen, maybe even this year,” Blumenauer said.
Additionally, lawmakers say they plan to introduce the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer Medical Marijuana Amendment and the McClintock-Polis Marijuana Amendment, spending-bill riders that would prevent the Drug Enforcement Administration from using funds to prosecute individuals in medical marijuana states and recreational marijuana states, respectively.
The Path to Marijuana Reform was quickly lauded by pro-marijuana activists from organizations such as the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws and the Marijuana Policy Project.
“This is commonsense legislation that will eliminate the growing tension between federal and state marijuana laws,” Robert Capecchi, director of federal policies for the Marijuana Policy Project, said in a statement. “Voters and legislatures are rolling back antiquated state marijuana prohibition policies, and it’s time for Congress to step up at the federal level. States are adopting laws designed to improve public safety by replacing the illegal marijuana market with a tightly regulated system of production and sales. The federal government should be working to facilitate that transition, not hinder it.”
Opponents of marijuana legalization, however, expressed concern about the measures.
Kevin Sabet, a former White House drug policy senior adviser who now heads Smart Approaches to Marijuana, a D.C.-based organization that opposes the legalization and commercialization of marijuana, told The Cannabist that expanding legalization would have negative consequences.
“While we don’t want to see folks locked up or given criminal records for smoking pot, we support federal laws against marijuana,” Sabet wrote in an e-mail. “We need to end, not expand the special interest big marijuana lobby. We can’t ignore the fact that today’s legalized marijuana — and the accompanying industry — is damaging to public health. States that have legalized marijuana continue to see a black market for the drug, increased rates of youth drug use, continued high rates of alcohol sales and interstate trafficking.”
Sabet referenced a recent news report out of Oregon that the state remains a hot spot for black market marijuana, despite legalization efforts.
“Ultimately, marijuana legalization is all about making a small number of investors very rich,” he said. “Many of those trying to change these laws are taking money from the same special-interest groups that put profits over public health.”
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