Marijuana and Drug Reform

Marijuana policy at the state level has shifted significantly in recent years as states have moved to legalize the drug for both medicinal and adult 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 and the Administration 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 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.

In 2013, Representatives Earl Blumenauer and Jared Polis co-authored a report “The Path Forward: Rethinking Federal Marijuana Policy” (updated 2015). The document reviews the history of marijuana prohibition in the United States, current conflicts between state and federal law, and outlines several opportunities to reform and clarify marijuana law at the federal level. Representative Blumenauer has also posted a FAQ on marijuana and marijuana legislation.

Oregon and Marijuana Reform in the States

In November 2014, Oregonians voted to end the failed prohibition of marijuana, establishing a taxed and regulated adult use system, making it one of four states to do so. For years, Oregon has been far ahead of the federal government on marijuana policy. We were the first state to pass the decriminalization of marijuana in 1973, and one of the first states to legalize medical marijuana. Now 23 states, the District of Columbia and Guam have fully legalized medical marijuana, and 20 states have passed decriminalization laws.

This movement in states is part of a larger evolution on marijuana policy by the American people, who are rejecting the failed War on Drugs – an approach that has disrupted the lives of millions of people needlessly through failed marijuana prohibition policies. More than half of the American population supports full legalization and over 70 percent support the legalization of medical marijuana.

Despite this, however, marijuana remains federally illegal, classified as a Schedule I substance, the same as heroin. This discrepancy between state and federal law has created a confusing patchwork of laws that trap businesses, patients, and state regulators in the middle, creating public health and safety challenges, inequities for state-legal businesses and constant uncertainty about the future. It is time for both the administration and the federal government to catch up.

Percent of Americans who think marijuana should be legal, over time (Gallup)

 

Action Needed at the Federal Level

In 2013 we saw progress at the administrative level, with the Obama Administration establishing a policy to not interfere with state legal programs so long as basic federal priorities were met. Despite this policy, far too many arms of the federal government have continued to maintain an inflexible and prohibitionist approach when dealing with questions of marijuana and state laws. Federal resources would be much better spent elsewhere.  

Ultimately, however, Congress has the power to unravel this mess. While we still have far to go, we have seen rapid progress in the 114th Congress on this issue. Congress enacted a provision in the FY15 spending bill to prevent the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) from spending funds to prevent states from implementing medical marijuana laws. In the 114th Congress so far, well over a dozen bills have already been introduced to help the situation, including bills in the Senate. There have also been six additional measures that have come to a vote on the House floor relating to reforming hemp or marijuana policy, with four passing. An additional three amendments have passed out of Senate committee.   

Representative Blumenauer supports legislation that would:

  • Allow states to enact existing marijuana laws without federal interference – Representative 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 five jurisdictions that have legalized adult use, it is time that Congress removes the federal prohibition on marijuana. Representative 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 the ban on industrial hemp – Representative Blumenauer supports ending the ban on industrial hemp by removing industrial hemp from the definition of marijuana. This would allow this agricultural industry dating back to our forefathers to begin to flourish again in the United States.
  • Allow the marijuana industry to operate in a normal business environment – Federal banking regulations make it nearly impossible for any marijuana business to obtain loans, open bank accounts, or take advantage of services offered to other businesses. Representative 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.
  • Ensure safe access for medical marijuana patients – Too often, medical marijuana patients are trapped in the middle of the patchwork of state and federal laws. Representative Blumenauer supports ensuring veterans who use the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) services can access medical marijuana in accordance with state laws. He supports expanding medical marijuana research to better inform doctors about the benefits and risks, and supports keeping the DEA out of state medical marijuana programs entirely.

Representative Blumenauer has also formed a 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. 

As part of these goals, Representative Blumenauer has introduced the following bills:

Access to medical marijuana for our veterans:

  • H.R. 667 – Veterans Equal Access Act – Representative Blumenauer introduced legislation requiring the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to authorize physicians and other health care workers employed by the VA to provide recommendations and opinions regarding the participation of a veteran in a state medical marijuana program. This includes authorizing them to fill out any forms involved in the process of recommending medical marijuana.
  • Representative Blumenauer has also championed an effort to pass similar language as an amendment to the Commerce, Justice and Sciences Appropriations bill in the House, which was considered in both 2014 and 2015, only narrowly failing. A similar provision was passed in a Senate committee in 2015.

Business Equity:

  • H.R. 1855 – Small Business Tax Equity Act – Representative Blumenauer introduced legislation to amends the tax code to allow for deductions of normal business expenses for marijuana businesses operating in compliance with state law.

Criminal Justice and Equity:

  • H.R. 3124 – Clean Slate for Marijuana Offenses Act – Representative Blumenauer introduced legislation to permit the expungement of records relating to certain federal marijuana-related offenses.
  • H.R. 3561 – Fair Access to Education Act – Representative Blumenauer introduced legislation to exclude marijuana misdemeanor offenses from the list of offenses that can result in ineligibility for federal education financial aid. 

Tax and Regulate:

  • H.R. 1013 – Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act – Representative Polis, joined by Representative Blumenauer introduced legislation to create a federal regulatory framework for marijuana and removes marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act schedule.
  • H.R. 1014 – Marijuana Tax Revenue Act – Representative Blumenauer, joined by Representative Polis, introduced legislation alongside H.R. 1013 to create a federal excise tax on marijuana.

The Facts about Marijuana

  • Marijuana is the third most popular recreational drug in America, behind only alcohol and tobacco.
  • Nearly half of all Americans have used marijuana at some point in their life, either for recreation or medicinal purposes.
  • On average, nearly 22 million Americans are past-month marijuana users.
  • Marijuana remains illegal on the federal level, and is listed as a Schedule 1 drug under the Controlled Substances Act, which makes it the most common illegal drug used in the United States.
  • Marijuana is less addictive than both alcohol and tobacco.
  • Other drugs that are currently legal, such as alcohol, tobacco, and prescription drugs, have significant negative public health effects:
    • Approximately 88,000 people a year die related to excessive alcohol use, 2.5 million years of potential life lost.
    • 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 480,000 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.
    • Approximately 88,000 people a year die related to excessive alcohol use, 2.5 million years of potential life lost.
    • 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 480,000 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.

 

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