Marijuana Frequently Asked Questions
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.
Since 2012, voters in Colorado, Washington, Alaska, Oregon, and Washington, DC have chosen to legalize small amounts of marijuana for adult recreational use. Forty jurisdictions already allow some form of medical marijuana. Half of Americans have tried marijuana at some point in their lives, and about 22 million use it per 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 in which marijuana is taxed and regulated, and states are allowed to develop their own programs, including retaining prohibition if they choose. This is a position that conservatives who respect states’ rights and liberals who respect individual rights should be able to get behind, and that would save billions of dollars in enforcement-related costs and raise billions in revenue for deficit reduction, substance abuse, and law enforcement.
We have made significant progress on this issue over the last three years, and Representative Blumenauer is 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 is past time that federal law and enforcement are brought 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?
I have been supportive of ending marijuana prohibitions for 40 years, first voting in the Oregon legislature to decriminalize small quantities in 1973. With the passage of legalization for adult use in four states and the District of Columbia, and the fact that now 40 states have passed laws permitting medical marijuana use in some form, it’s beyond time for the federal government to update its marijuana policies. Polling demonstrates that the American public agrees.
Would you want to legalize and tax marijuana in every state?
I want the states to be free to set their own policies regardless of federal interference. I introduced H.R. 1014 to tax marijuana at the federal level, which together with H.R. 1013, the Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act, 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 adult use or medicinal purposes. On average, nearly 22 million Americans are past-month marijuana users.
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 paired with changes that have already happened at the state level, it does not make sense to continue to treat marijuana as a Schedule I drug at the federal level, 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.
In 2013, the Department of Justice (DOJ) issued a memorandum, referred to as the “Cole Memo,” which detailed enforcement priorities for U.S. Attorneys in states where marijuana is legal in some form. It set a policy that DOJ will stay out of these state programs so long as certain enforcement. This was a positive step but does not go far enough. Marijuana needs to be removed from the Controlled Substances Act entirely.
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.
Billions of 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, builds the trust and relationships that lead to better legislation in the areas of jobs, the budget, and rebuilding and renewing America.