Friday, February 20th marked the introduction of two separate pieces of legislation in the US House that would put a regulatory framework into place for states that choose to legalize the cultivation and sale of cannabis. The bills are sponsored by Democratic Rep. Jared Polis of Colorado and Rep.Earl Blumenauer of Oregon, congressmen from two states that have legalized some form of recreational marijuana.
The “Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act” and “Marijuana Tax Revenue Act” are both aimed at reconciling the current federal vs. state law conflict that Colorado and Washington first ushered in with elections in 2012. Now that Oregon, Alaska, and Washington DC have followed by passing their own laws, it seems inevitable that many more states are set to vote for some form of legalized marijuana in the next few years.
Among other things, the bills would take marijuana off the current list of schedule I drugs within 60 days of passage and would create a new federal excise tax on any marijuana sold in the United States. The excise tax would start at 10% and eventually increase to 25%, which would be on top of current state excise taxes.
The bills would not impose any federal-wide legalization laws, but would rather provide an actual solid legal basis for states to sell cannabis without being in direct conflict with federal policies. The Tax Revenue Act would establish similar penalties to the tobacco industry for those found to be not in compliance and would also require the IRS to conduct periodic studies on the industry to present to Congress.
As exciting as this might seem for those of us that see the changing attitudes to marijuana across the country, I’m not quite ready to break out the Cheetos and Fun Dip quite yet.
These bills are being introduced early on in a new session of Congress that has a Republican, generally conservative majority in both the House and Senate. The current Congress has so far debated and voted on topics like increased abortion restrictions, maintaining currently ineffective immigration policy, and the (literally) 56th vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
Many of these examples were doomed from the start and were often referred to as “symbolic” votes. This is a tidy way to say that Congress is not currently in a position to do anything thanks to the gridlock that comes from an abundance of ego and serious lack of actual facts guiding the decision-making process.
While a two-party system makes it seem like there are just two major ideological camps, the actual reality is there are so many smaller factions within each party that it becomes difficult to reach consensus on any issue, especially something like marijuana, which carries with it decades-old stereotypes.
These exact same congressmen introduced similar bills in 2013 that didn’t stand a chance at the time with only 18 co-sponsors, and the climate in Washington hasn’t exactly improved much since then. It should also be noted that these bills are being introduced at the same time that neighboring states are suing Colorado. Among their claims, it is stated that the legal marijuana sold in Colorado is coming into their states en masse and is affecting public health and law enforcement in their state.
So while these two new bills to move forward on marijuana legislation are definitely promising, I’m certainly not going to spark up in celebration just yet.