Pot Legalization Goes Federal (ABC News)

Screen shot 2013-02-10 at 4.54.41 PMFrom ABC News:

A new effort is under way in Congress to legalize marijuana.

After Colorado and Washington became the first two states to approve the sale and use of pot, marijuana advocates are turning their eye toward the federal government – something they don’t often do.

Members of Congress will introduce between eight and 10 bills to roll back federal marijuana restrictions and levy new taxes.

The first two were introduced this week by two liberal members of Congress. Reps. Jared Polis, D-Colo., and Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., on Monday rolled out a pair of bills that would legalize and tax marijuana at the federal level, while still allowing states to ban it.

Polis’s bill, the Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act, would remove marijuana from the list of banned substances under the Controlled Substances Act and regulate pot under a renamed Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Marijuana and Firearms. Marijuana growers would have to buy permits to offset the costs of federal oversight.

Blumenauer’s bill, the Marijuana Tax Equity Act, would levy a 50-percent excise tax on the first sale of marijuana, typically from growers to processors or sellers, plus annual “occupation taxes” of $1,000 and $500 on marijuana growers and anyone else engaged in the business.

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., meanwhile, plans to introduce another marijuana bill sometime soon. He’s the only Republican to formally support either Polis or Blumenauer as a cosponsor.

Blumenauer’s office confirmed that a slew of bills are on the way.

“We are in the process of a dramatic shift in the marijuana policy landscape,” Blumenauer said in a prepared statement on Monday.

He may be right. Marijuana legalizers enjoyed unprecedented success in 2012, hitting on their two major legalization initiatives at the state level in Colorado and Washington. Since then, bills have been introduced to roll back marijuana restrictions in Hawaii, Oklahoma and Rhode Island.

It’s unlikely Congress will legalize pot anytime soon, despite polls showing broader public acceptance of pot. In December, 64 percent of Gallup respondents said they don’t want the federal government stepping in to prevent pot legalization in states that allow it. In November, another nationwide Gallup poll showed that 48 percent think marijuana should be legal, while 50 percent think it shouldn’t be.

But Polis’s bill only has 11 cosponsors and must make its way through the Republican-controlled House Agriculture Committee.  Blumenauer’s has two and must make its way through the GOP-controlled House Ways and Means Committee.

What’s significant about the new push, however, is that it comes on the heels of actual state-level policy change. State and federal laws now thoroughly conflict on the topic of marijuana, and never before has Congress considered legalization in that context.

In fact, Congress rarely considers marijuana legalization at all. The Washington, D.C.-based Marijuana Policy Project considers a 2011 effort by then-Reps. Barney Frank, D-Mass., and Ron Paul, R-Texas, to have been the first serious effort to end marijuana “prohibition” at the federal level. That bill went nowhere. Before that, Frank pushed a bill in 2008 that mostly decriminalized marijuana federally. In a Democratic Congress, that bill died in committee. One of its seven cosponsors signed on by accident.

The present effort appears more coordinated. Along with their bills, Polis and Blumenauer released a 20-page white paper on the history of marijuana’s illegality. It’s the first time pot legislation has been introduced in such a multi-bill wave.

For decades, marijuana advocates have pushed medical-pot laws and decriminalization measures through state ballot initiatives and state legislatures. The federal push, unlikely as it may be, represents a new prong in their strategy.

From Raw Story:

Though previous efforts have faltered in Congress, Reps. Jared Polis (D-CO) and Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) insisted Tuesday their plan to overhaul the nation’s marijuana laws was not in vain.

On a conference call, Polis and Blumenauer emphasized their legislation was just a first step in reforming drug policy. Blumenauer said about 20 members of Congress were going to play a more active role in the near future, but refused to specific exactly who was going to join the effort. He claimed he didn’t want to step on anyone’s toes by speaking for them, and that the current legislation was only the first of about 8-10 marijuana bills that would be introduced.

Bill Piper, the Director of National Affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance, optimistically proclaimed that the United States was seeing the beginning of the end of marijuana prohibition. He noted that the majority of Americans now supported legalizing the recreational use of marijuana.

The polling firm Gallup found in 2011 that half of Americans supported legalizing marijuana, while 46 percent wished to keep the drug illegal.

Piper said the country was at “a tipping point” and that “changes are going to happen.” His optimism was reflected by Blumenauer and Polis, who insisted there was growing support to reform federal marijuana laws.

Polis said there had been an “enormous evolution of American opinion” regarding marijuana prohibition. Most Americans now believed the war on drugs was a failed policy, and were sick of the social and financial cost of enforcing marijuana prohibition.

Polis’s state of Colorado and the state of Washington both approved measures last year to legalize the recreational use of marijuana. However, the drug is still outlawed at the federal level, creating confusion regarding its actual legal status.

The bill introduced by Polis, the Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act, would remove marijuana from the federal Controlled Substances Act. Polis explained marijuana would remain illegal in states where it was currently prohibited, but provide states that have legalized the drug with “room to operate without constant fear” from the Drug Enforcement Administration and other federal agencies. The bill would limit the federal government to enforcing cross-border or inter-state trafficking laws.

Similar legislation introduced by former Reps. Barney Frank (D-MA) and Ron Paul (R-TX) in 2011 failed to gain much traction and died in the House.

Blumenauer’s bill, the Marijuana Tax Equity Act, would create a federal tax framework similar to the ones in place for the alcohol and tobacco industry. The legislation would impose a 50 percent excise tax on the first sale of marijuana as well as an occupational tax on those operating marijuana businesses. The bill would generate additional revenue, providing more resources for drug treatment and law enforcement, Blumenauer said.

3 thoughts on “Pot Legalization Goes Federal (ABC News)

  1. Our federal government is infested with anti-drug prohibitionist agencies and committees . There are thousands of employees and agents . There are multi-billion dollar budgets . The power these agencies and committees wield is unimaginable and affect every facet of our society .
    Does anyone honestly believe that these agencies and committees would give up that power .

    Like

  2. We all know that someday, soon, this prohibition will end.

    I spent 5 years in Federal Prison for a marijuana offense.

    The memorable day that I met with the parole panel, I asked, “When pot becomes legal, what will my 5 years spent in prison have meant?”

    Their response, “That is a very philosophical question. We don’t deal with philosophy in this office.”

    Case closed…go back to your cell.

    When the 5 years were gone, I walked out and never looked back. But, I know to this day, there are thousands of Americans still rotting in jail over a plant.

    I wrote about the escapades that led to my imprisonment…my book:
    Shoulda Robbed a Bank

    I admit, I had a great time. No one was injured, no one was killed, firearms were not involved…there were no victims.

    We were Americans…doing what Americans do best…living free.

    Like

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