The people have spoken – it is time for the federal government to reform the failed marijuana policies that ruin lives and cost us billions of dollars every year.

Last November, Colorado and Washington voters chose to legalize small amounts of marijuana for adult recreational use. Nineteen Jurisdictions already allow medical marijuana. Half of Americans have tried marijuana at some point in their lives, and about 18 million have used it in the past month.  It has been here for years, and it is here to stay.

Instead of arresting two-thirds of a million people every year for using something that half of Americans feel should be legal, we should embark on a reasonable program allowing states to develop their own programs that the federal government should tax and regulate.  This is a position that conservatives who respect states’ rights and liberals who respect individual rights should be able to get behind.

Once we have established this principle, we should finally institute a framework to tax and regulate marijuana that will save billions of dollars in enforcement-related costs and raise billions in new revenue for deficit reduction, substance abuse, and law enforcement.

Although estimates are imprecise, I believe that my Marijuana Tax Equity Act, in combination with an end to federal marijuana prohibition, should be able to produce a net savings of at least $100 billion over a decade through increased revenues and reduced expenditures, while growing the economies of small town and rural America.

I look forward to working with members of both parties to move this issue forward. It no longer makes sense to keep marijuana in a legal gray area, and it’s past time that we brought federal law and enforcement into line with the will of the majority of Americans. 

Have you ever used marijuana?

I have never smoked or consumed marijuana.

Why are you moving to reform marijuana laws now?

I have been supportive of ending marijuana prohibitions for forty years, first voting in the Oregon legislature to decriminalize small quantities in 1973. With the passage of legalization for adult use in the states of Washington and Colorado, it’s beyond time for the federal government to update its marijuana policies. Polling demonstrates strong support for legalizing aspects of marijuana use within a strong regulatory framework.

Does this legislation legalize and tax marijuana in every state? 

No, this legislation creates an excise tax for marijuana in states where it is already legal. Together with H.R. 499, the Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act, this legislation establishes a starting point for laying out a federal regulatory and taxation framework for marijuana sales that are legal under state law. States will remain free to make their own decisions about marijuana policy. 

Won’t these reforms encourage the use of marijuana?

Marijuana is the third most popular recreational drug in America, behind only alcohol and tobacco with nearly half of all Americans having used marijuana at some point in their life, either for recreation or medicinal purposes. On average, nearly 18 million Americans used marijuana in the last month.

In addition, marijuana is less addictive than both alcohol and tobacco. In fact, alcohol, tobacco and prescription drugs, have significant negative public health effects:

  • Approximately 80,000 people a year die related to excessive alcohol use.
  • Over 10,000 people a year are killed in alcohol-impaired driving accidents.
  • Alcohol can lead to cirrhosis of the liver, general poor health, and antisocial and often illegal behavior that includes violence.
  • More than 400,000 deaths each year are attributed to tobacco smoking.
  • Since 2003, prescription drug overdoses have killed more people than heroin and cocaine combined, and their abuse is now our fastest growing drug problem.

Given these facts, it does not make sense to continue to treat marijuana as a Schedule I drug, the same schedule given to drugs like heroin and LSD, but not alcohol and tobacco.

Isn’t marijuana considered a gateway drug?

This would be a better world without abuse of substances that can damage health and quality of life, marijuana included. However, the science is clear that both alcohol and tobacco are more dangerous and addictive than marijuana. It makes no sense to continue a prohibition on marijuana when these two substances, when abused, are a proven greater danger to health and society. Ending the prohibition on marijuana ends this policy of hypocrisy. In addition, as we seek to protect the health and safety of Americans through policies and laws, we must acknowledge when existing mechanisms don’t work, go too far, or cause more harm than good. This is the case with the federal government’s current approach to marijuana.

How does the federal government currently treat marijuana?

Under the Controlled Substances Act, marijuana is listed as a Schedule I substance. This is the classification for drugs that are viewed having “no currently accepted medical use in the United States, a lack of accepted safety for use under medical supervision, and a high potential for abuse.” This is the most severe listing, and other Schedule I substances include heroin and LSD, but not cocaine or amphetamines. The federal mandatory minimum sentence for manufacturing, distributing or dispensing 100 marijuana plants is five-years, the same for manufacturing, distributing or dispensing 100 grams of heroin.

Is there a home grow exception to the tax?

Yes, because the bill requires a sale for marijuana to be taxed, if there is no sale, then there is no tax.

Is there an exemption to the tax for medical marijuana?

There is no exemption for medical marijuana. However, states that have authorized a home grow rule, collective gardens, or transferred grow rights would not face tax, because there is no sale of marijuana involved.  We are working with Americans for Safe Access and other advocates to find a way to incorporate the various state medical marijuana rules into an administrable framework.

Why set the excise tax on Marijuana at 50%?

This rate will provide a significant revenue source for much needed programs like drug treatment and rehabilitation programs, enforcement, medical research, as well as deficit reduction. This tax is placed at the initial stage of production.  Given the wide variation in state tax levels –different applicable sales taxes, Colorado’s initial rate and yet-to-be determined future rate, Washington’s 75+% rate, and medical marijuana exemptions – the legislation starts with a consistent rate and we will work with advocates to appropriately reflect the economic environment.

Research by the CATO and RAND institutes anticipates a steep price drop and growth of the market in a post-legalization environment. The rate is open to reexamining as the future becomes more clear.

If the tax is that high, won’t it mean people will just turn to the black market where it is cheaper?

Even at this tax rate, given a predictable enforcement environment, legal marijuana should be cheaper than black market marijuana.  Furthermore, legal marijuana will be more attractive because one wouldn’t risk criminal penalties.

Shouldn’t (jobs/budget/taxes/other issue) be your #1 priority?

Reforming drug policy touches on many priorities, including jobs and the economy. Hemp products, for example, were a $43 million industry in 2011. However, because of hemp’s association with marijuana, it is banned from being grown domestically and must be imported. That’s money and jobs that could be growing our economy and helping Oregon farmers were it not for outdated federal bans on hemp.

$5.5 billion dollars are associated with the enforcement of current marijuana laws. Taxing and regulating marijuana provides an opportunity to free up those enforcement funds and generate extra revenue as well. In a time where budgets are stretched, incarcerating people for an activity that most think should be legal is an ideal opportunity for change.

While I continue to work on jobs and economic legislation there are a host of issues, like drug policy reform, that have bi-partisan support and should move forward. Working across the aisle on simple, common sense measures creates the trust and relationships that leads to better legislation in the areas of jobs, the budget, and rebuilding and renewing America. 

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