U.S.: Earl Blumenauer, Jared Polis Introduce Bills To End Federal Marijuana Prohibition


U.S. Representative Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Representative Jared Polis (D-CO) on Friday 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 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 percent and rises over time to 25 percent 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.” Blumenauer said. “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," Blumenauer said. "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,” Polis said. “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,” Polis said.

“Congress has been ignoring our broken and outdated marijuana laws for decades," said Dan Riffle, director of federal policies for the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP). "Their failure to let go of prohibition is causing serious problems for state governments and interfering in the lives of countless Americans. It’s time for our federal representatives to come to grips with the fact that marijuana is safer than alcohol and most people think it should be treated that way."

“We commend Congressmen Polis and Blumenauer for proposing a new way forward," Riffle said. "Their colleagues should be ready to listen and take an objective look at the benefits of replacing prohibition with a system of regulation. Members who consider it unthinkable to return to alcohol prohibition need to ask themselves why they are clinging to the prohibition of a less harmful substance.

“These bills would regulate and tax marijuana, taking cultivation and sales out of the underground market and allowing it to be controlled by legitimate businesses under the close watch of authorities," Riffle said. "Marijuana would be grown in licensed facilities instead of national forests and basements in the suburbs. It would be sold in stores that create good jobs and generate tax revenue, instead of on the street where it benefits cartels and criminals.”

"More than half of Americans now live in states where access to medical or adult-used marijuana is legal at the state level," said National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA) executive director Aaron Smith. "It's time for federal laws that respect the states who have decided a legal, regulated approach is smarter and safer than the failure of marijuana prohibition."

"The leadership of Rep. Blumenauer and Rep. Polis on these issues puts them in line with the majority of Americans who think that states should have the freedom to tax and regulate marijuana and that state-legal cannabis businesses shouldn't be persecuted under state law," Smith said.

"Cops have better things to worry about that the recreational habits of responsible, nonviolent adults," said Maj. Neill Franklin (Ret.), executive director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. "And dispensary owners have better things to worry about than whether the federal government is going to arrest them and seize their assets for acting in accordance with state law."

National trends reflect state efforts. More than 46 percent 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.

Photo of Reps. Polis and Bluemenauer: US News