To annihilate the enemy, it is necessary to directly confront those who control the madness. This is the wartime philosophy of two federal lawmakers who recently introduced legislation that could force the congressional powers of Capitol Hill to reconsider the failed policies behind prohibition.
Representatives Jared Polis of Colorado and Earl Blumenauer of Oregon joined forces last Friday to introduce a set of bills aimed at imposing a strict level of reform to the marijuana laws that have plagued the United States for nearly a century. The bill introduced by Polis, the “Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act,” would erase cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act and allow the herb to be regulated under the guidance of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives – similar to how the agency controls the brewing industry.
Blumenauer’s measure, entitled the “Marijuana Tax Revenue Act,” would establish a federal excise tax for a nationwide cannabis market. The culmination of the two bills would enable major corporations that have been apprehensive about participating in the business of selling cannabis at the state level to launch operations without the risk of federal prosecution–creating an orgy of commerce that would mean the true inception of Big Marijuana.
If passed, however, this legislation would still allow states the right to maintain prohibition. So, while most state-run governments would likely jump at the opportunity to get their hands on a cut of a projected multi-billion-dollar industry, some of the more stubborn states, like Indiana, could refuse to go green.
Yet, as Representative Polis stated last week, siding with prohibition is not in the best interest of the economy or public safety. “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,” he added.
While it is important for marijuana to be eliminated from the Controlled Substances Act, which Polis’ bill aims to do, there are other issues in the cannabis industry that would be resolved under the legislation filed by Blumenauer. In addition to establishing a federal excise tax on non-medical marijuana, which would begin at 10 percent and increase to 25 percent, as the industry whittles away at the black market, it would also establish a code for dealing with cannabis producers and retail outlets. Businesses that fail to comply with the rules would incur penalties. The bill would also require the IRS to compile reports on the cannabis industry and offer suggestions to Congress to help strengthen the market.
“It’s time for the federal government to chart a new path forward for marijuana.” said 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.”
While drug policy experts applaud Polis and Blumenauer for dragging these bills up to the steps of the Capitol, the odds of them making any headway this year are next to none. These measures are similar to legislation introduced in 2013–it attracted some support, but ultimately, the bill never even received a hearing. If the bills make it to committee in 2015, progress will have been made.