U.S. lawmakers on Thursday introduced a package of marijuana reform bills aimed at protecting and preserving existing state-based programs while laying 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 marijuana-related bills that address issues such as taxation, banking, civil forfeiture, de-scheduling, 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.
“The federal government must respect the decision Oregonians made at the polls and allow law-abiding marijuana businesses to go to the bank just like any other legal business,” Wyden said in a statement, referencing the legalization efforts in his home state and those made elsewhere. “This three-step approach will spur job growth and boost our economy all while ensuring the industry is being held to a fair standard.”
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; prohibits residents of marijuana-legal states to be required to take a marijuana drug test for positions in the federal civil service; and easing barriers for medical marijuana research.
Marijuana Revenue and Regulation Act (Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act) — Remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act; impose an excise tax regime on marijuana products; allow for the permitting for marijuana businesses; regulate marijuana in a manner similar to alcohol. Rep. Polis is sponsoring a portion of this legislation in the House.
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. And 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.
“Voters and legislatures are rolling back antiquated state marijuana prohibition policies, and it’s time for Congress to step up at the federal level,” Robert Capecchi, director of federal policies for the Marijuana Policy Project, said in a statement. “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.”
Justin Strekal, political director of NORML, said passage of the bills would help end the current conflict between state and federal laws.
“State-legal cannabis businesses have added tens of thousands of jobs, supplanted criminal markets and generated tens of millions in new tax revenue,” said Aaron Smith, executive director of the National Cannabis Industry Association. “States are clearly realizing the benefits of regulating marijuana and we are glad to see a growing number of federal policy makers are taking notice.”
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.
This story was first posted to TheCannabist.co.