A set of bills introduced in the U.S. Senate and House on Thursday would drastically reform the way marijuana is regulated at the federal level and allow state-legal marijuana programs to move forward without federal intervention.
Introduced by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), the legislative package would remove marijuana from the Controlled Substance Act’s list of most dangerous drugs and set up a federal framework for regulating it. Doing so, the lawmakers say, would close the gap between federal and state-level marijuana policy, keep people out of jail for minor drug offenses and allow marijuana businesses to thrive.
“As more states follow Oregon’s leadership in legalizing and regulating marijuana, too many people are trapped between federal and state laws,” Blumenauer said in a statement. “It’s not right, and it’s not fair.”
The package, known as the Path to Marijuana Reform, includes three separate bills:
The Small Business Tax Equity Act: This would require that state-legal marijuana businesses be taxed similarly to other small businesses, and would remove regulations that bar cannabis businesses from claiming tax deductions and credits. The Senate version is co-sponsored by Rand Paul (R-Ky.), while the House version is co-sponsored by Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.).
The Responsibly Addressing the Marijuana Policy Gap Act: This would remove federal penalties for marijuana sale and possession in states that have legalized pot. It would also give marijuana businesses access to banking services, allow veterans to access state-legal medical marijuana and protect Native American tribes from federal punishment for marijuana sale and use.
The Marijuana Revenue and Regulation Act: This would regulate marijuana similarly to alcohol by removing the substance’s Schedule 1 designation and imposing a federal excise tax on sales of marijuana products.
In a call with reporters on Thursday, Wyden and Blumenauer framed the issue as one of states’ rights ― an argument they hope will resonate with their Republican colleagues.
The lawmakers specifically called out Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who is opposed to marijuana legalization and has indicated he may crack down on state-legal programs.
“I’m particularly concerned because it appears that the attorney general wants to cherry-pick, apparently on the basis of some kind of whim, which states’ rights he likes and which ones he doesn’t like,” Wyden said. “My sense is increasingly there are some in Washington, D.C., who say they favor states’ rights only to do so if they think the state is right.”
My sense is increasingly there are some in Washington, D.C., who say they favor states’ rights only to do so if they think the state is right. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.)
They also argued that the excise tax component should be attractive to their GOP colleagues looking for revenue to fund projects like President Donald Trump’s proposed wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. So far, legal pot has been extremely lucrative: Revenue from marijuana sales in Colorado, for example, topped $1 billion in 2016.
“This could be a no-brainer for the federal government to get some of the revenue flowing” to states with legal recreational pot, Blumenauer said.
He also argued that the government would save money by keeping people out of jail for low-level offenses like marijuana possession, and pointed to the growing public support for legalization of both recreational and medical cannabis. (The General Social Survey found that 57 percent of Americans supported legalizing marijuana in 2016, up from 52 percent in 2014.)
Both Wyden and Blumenauer have introduced similar legislation in previous sessions with little success. However, they said this package could have legs because of its revenue aspect and because it is overall a “more comprehensive” approach, as Blumenauer put it.
“We think this covers all the bases,” he said.
Legalization advocates praised the reform package.
“The flurry of bills on the Hill today are a reflection of the growing support for cannabis policy reform nationally,” said National Cannabis Industry Association executive director Aaron Smith. “State-legal cannabis businesses have added tens of thousands of jobs, supplanted criminal markets and generated tens of millions in new tax revenue. 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.”
Robert Capecchi, the director of federal policies for the Marijuana Policy Project, also said he supports the bills.
“There will surely be some members on the fence about this legislation, but consider it unthinkable that we would return to alcohol prohibition,” he said. “They need to ask themselves why they are still clinging to the prohibition of a less harmful substance.”