Marijuana policy at the state level has shifted significantly in recent years as states have moved to legalize the drug for both medical 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 2017). The report 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.
Congressman Blumenauer has also posted a FAQ on marijuana policy and is actively working in Congress to advance commonsense legislation to aid along with the fight for cannabis and drug reform.
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 five states to do so. For years, Oregon has been far ahead of the federal government on marijuana policy. It was the first state to pass the decriminalization of marijuana in 1973, and one of the first states to legalize medical marijuana. Now 36 states, the District of Columbia and Guam have fully legalized medical marijuana, and 27 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. Over 60 percent of the American population supports full legalization, and 88 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
Representative Blumenauer supports reforms to:
- 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 17 states and DC that have legalized adult 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.
- 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. 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.
- 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.
- Ensure veterans who use the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) services can access medical marijuana in accordance with state laws. Congressman Blumenauer 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.
- Remove barriers to research – Due to marijuana’s widespread use as a medicine, scientists should be able to examine questions about risks, doses, proper applications, and more. Congressman Blumenauer is working to end federal roadblocks to medical marijuana research.
- Restore the lives and communities most impacted by this disastrous policy – Congressman Blumenauer supports legislation to increase equity within the legal cannabis marketplace, expunge federal marijuana use and possession crimes, and reinvest in communities most impacted by the federal drug prohibition policies.
In February 2017, Congressman Blumenauer established the Congressional Cannabis Caucus with Representatives Dana Rohrabacher (CA-48), Jared Polis (CO-02), and Don Young (AK-At Large). The Caucus is a formal forum for members of the House to discuss, learn, and work together to establish a better and more rational approach to federal cannabis policy. Congressman Blumenauer and Congressman Young are now joined on the caucus leadership team by Representatives Barbara Lee (CA-13) David Joyce (OH-14).
The Facts about Marijuana