Marijuana policy at the state level has shifted abruptly in recent years as states have moved to legalize the drug for both medicinal and recreation use. Unfortunately, federal marijuana policy remains rooted in the past, as all types of marijuana continue to remain illegal under federal law. It is time for Congress to face the facts surrounding marijuana, its use and regulation, and develop a legislative framework that accounts for the inevitable transition of marijuana policy – one that is already well under way. Federal marijuana policy use should be modernized to reduce confusion, uncertainty, and conflicting government priorities. Maintaining the status quo creates an inconsistent legal environment that wastes law enforcement resources and misses out on potential tax revenues.
Representatives Earl Blumenauer and Jared Polis have also co-authored a new report “The Path Forward: Rethinking Federal Marijuana Policy.” The document reviews the history of marijuana prohibition in the US, current conflicts between state and federal law, and outlines several opportunities to reform and clarify marijuana law at the federal level. Congressman Blumenauer has also posted a FAQ on marijuana and marijuana legislation.
Today over 2 million people are incarcerated in the United States, more than any other country in the world, and 50% of all federal inmates are there for drug-related crimes. This is part of the reason our spending on corrections has increased at a much higher rate than our spending on higher education over the last 20 years.
Millions of people have been caught up in the justice system for marijuana offenses, and over 660,000 are arrested each year for possession. Too often people are serving time in jail for using a drug that nearly half the nation’s population feels should be legal for recreational purposes and 70 percent feel should be legal for medicinal purposes.
The rapid spread of legal (under state law) medical marijuana facilities has given hundreds of thousands of people access to marijuana for everything from suppressing the nausea associated with chemotherapy to mitigating the effects of multiple sclerosis and chronic pain. According to the 2010 Census, just over 106 million people live in jurisdictions where their respective government (usually with voter approval) has decided that some aspect of marijuana use should be legally permitted. Last fall, voters in Washington and Colorado approved adult, recreational marijuana use. Studies show that many Americans now agree that marijuana should be legal and support is growing.
Percent of Americans who think marijuana should be legal, over time (Gallup)
The Facts about Marijuana
While President Obama has declared that his administration has “bigger fish to fry” in regards to cracking down on use of marijuana in states where it is legal, far too many US Attorneys and Drug Enforcement personnel are still ‘frying those little fish.’ Only Congress has the power to unravel this mess. It is past time it does so.
Congressman Blumenauer supports legislation that would:
- Allow states to enact existing marijuana laws without federal interference – Congressman Blumenauer supports legislation to allow states to enforce their laws without fear of interference by the federal government.
- Tax and regulate marijuana – Considering the growing number of jurisdictions that have legalized medical marijuana and the two jurisdictions that have legalized recreational use, it is time that Congress removes the federal prohibition on marijuana. Congressman Blumenauer supports legislation to remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act and create a regulatory and taxation framework similar to what is in place for alcohol and tobacco.
- Remove ban on industrial hemp – Congressman Blumenauer supports ending the ban on industrial hemp by removing industrial hemp from the definition of marijuana. This would allow a new agricultural industry to begin to flourish in the United States.
- Allow the marijuana industry to operate in a normal business environment – Federal banking regulations make it difficult for any marijuana business to obtain loans, open bank accounts, or take advantage of services offered to other businesses. Congressman Blumenauer supports immediately removing tax and banking barriers to allow legitimate businesses to operate in states that have legalized marijuana for medical and recreational use.
- Create a sensible drug policy working group – Congressman Blumenauer is forming a Sensible Drug Policy Working Group to educate members of Congress and their staff on the facts of marijuana use and national drug policy, and work to coordinate efforts to pass a comprehensive legislative package to address the issues highlighted above
Related legislation introduced or co-sponsored by Congressman Blumenauer:
- H.R. 689 - States' Medical Marijuana Patient Protection Act - Allows medical marijuana patients and businesses--who are complying with state law--the ability to access and distribute marijuana free from federal interference.
- H.R. 710 - Truth in Trials Act – Allows medical marijuana patients to introduce evidence in federal court that they followed state law.
- H.R. 784 - States' Medical Marijuana Property Rights Protection Act – Prevents the Department of Justice from seizing property from people who are operating medical marijuana facilities in compliance with state law.
- H.R. 501 - Marijuana Tax Equity Act of 2013 – Creates a federal excise tax on marijuana.
- H.R. 499 - Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2013 – Creates a federal regulatory framework for marijuana.
- H.R. 525 - Industrial Hemp Farming Act of 2013 – Removes hemp from the definition of marijuana in the Controlled Substances Act, ending the federal prohibition on growing industrial hemp.
- H.R. 964 - Respect States' and Citizens' Rights Act of 2013 – Undoes federal preemption of state marijuana laws, allowing for the implementation of state law without interference by federal law.
- H.R. 1523 – Respect State Marijuana Laws Act of 2013 – Legalizes marijuana at the federal level to the extent it is legal at the state level.
- H.R. 1635 – To establish the National Commission on Federal Marijuana Policy
- H.R. 2240 - Small Business Tax Equity Act - Amends the tax code to allow for deductions of normal business expenses for marijuana businesses operating in compliance with state law.
- H.R. 2652 - Marijuana Businesses Access to Banking Act of 2013 - Provides a "safe harbor" and additional protections for depository institutions who provide a "financial product or service" to a covered business.
Right now the federal government is on a path that combines the worst of both worlds. We criminalize behaviors that many Americans think are appropriate and we aren’t doing enough to help those who are struggling with addiction to alcohol and other drugs. It is time to change our laws before we travel further down this road with nothing to show but billions of dollars wasted, and hundreds of thousands of damaged lives.