Two bills have been introduced at the federal level that aim to change our nation’s broken, outdated policy on cannabis. Both bills were introduced to the House of Representatives on Friday, February 20th, 2015. While neither explicitly legalize cannabis in states where it has not been legalized already, they represent the closest thing to real, national reform on cannabis law in decades.
It isn’t surprising that one of the two bills was sponsored by Democrat Jared Polis from Colorado, the first state to re-legalize cannabis use for adults. His bill, entitled the Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act (HR 1013), seeks to completely remove cannabis from the controlled substances schedule; transition its regulation and enforcement to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives instead of the Drug Enforcement Agency; and regulate marijuana like alcohol by amending the section of the law that discusses “intoxicating liquors.”
The second bill, sponsored by Rep. Earl Blumenauer from Oregon, creates a federal excise tax on non-medical cannabis sales. Entitled the Marijuana Tax Revenue Act of 2015 (HR 1014) , the bill would amend the Internal Revenue Service’s code, creating an occupational tax for marijuana businesses and establish penalties for those who do not comply with the new tax requirements. This tax would initially be at 10% and would increase to 25% over time as the regulated market establishes itself. It would likely be imposed on the sales from grower/cultivator to processor/product manufacturer.
While some may chafe at the imposition of taxes, the creation of a federal regulatory framework for the retail sale and cultivation of cannabis is a massive stride in the right direction. These bills would protect the newly-created recreational cannabis markets in several states, as well as the very tenuous medical cannabis markets in others, by removing the spectre of federal prohibition from the equation. It bears repeating that neither of these bills would legalize cannabis unconditionally. Instead, they would legally protect the various state programs that have developed across the country. At this time, federal law trumps state law in the matter of cannabis prohibition (Gonzales v. Raich 2005).
The markets that currently operate do so only with the blessing of the current administration, which has repeatedly stated it will not actively prosecute those who act within the confines of their state laws, while still frequently arresting and prosecuting cultivators in states with medical or recreational cannabis policies. Even those who operate in full compliance with the laws of their state could theoretically face federal prosecution if the current administration, or the one that follows it, changes this laissez-faire approach to federal authority in regards to cannabis prohibition.
It is unclear, at this time, if the bills will be able to pass both the House and the Senate. Regardless of how lawmakers vote, it is clear from recent polls that Americans no longer favor prohibition policies. If enough constituents reach out to their elected officials and encourage them to support a rational federal policy on cannabis, it is possible that these bills could represent the beginning of the end to cannabis prohibition. Please consider calling or emailing your representative asking them to either co-sponsor HR 1013 and HR 1014, or to support them when (if) they come to a general vote. Those inclined to reach out to their Representatives can find them here.