First, Rep. Jared Polis, a Democrat from Colorado, introduced the Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act. If voted to law, the Act would effectively remove marijuana from the list of harmful, controlled narcotics with no proven medical use, where it’s classified now under the Controlled Substances Act. Under the status quo, the sale, possession, production, or distribution of marijuana is patently illegal on a federal level. But if the new bill passes, it would take the onus of regulation from a criminal act with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DOJ) and Department of Justice (DOJ) and transfer it to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives. There, it would be treated very similarly to alcohol.
A second bill was subsequently introduced by Oregonian Democrat Rep. Earl Blumenauer, the Marijuana Tax Revenue Act, which lays a framework for federal excise tax on marijuana when or if the first bill passes. The legalization of marijuana and federal taxation would not only free up countless billions of dollars spent every year on law enforcement, our court system, and incarcerations, but also fill the national coffers.
As outlined, the bills would end the nearly hundred-year federal prohibition of marijuana but not mandate its legality. States would still be able to enact their own policies, making it legal for recreational use, medical use, or not at all as they see fit. But the federal stance would finally be consistent with the movement of state decriminalization that already has plenty of wind in its sails.
So far, four states and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational pot for its citizens, and 23 states have OK’d marijuana for medical use. Many more states are expected to vote on ballot measures to outright legalize marijuana within the next two years, including California in 2016. But states have only been allowed to loosen prohibition or legalize because of a federal mea culpa to look the other way, de-prioritizing marijuana criminality.
The two new bills are so paramount to further marijuana legalization because it’s entirely possibly for a change of heart on a federal level – especially if a new administration (read: Republican) is voted into office in 2016. They wouldn’t have to change existing laws, just give marching orders to the Attorney General and DEA, etc. to enforce the laws already on the books. While that’s unlikely considering the growing popular sentiment for the efficacy of marijuana as medicine and legalization, we’ve seen stranger things happen.
Until the Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act and Marijuana Tax Revenue Act bills pass, we’ll watch with cautious optimism, and offer kudos to Polis and Blumenauer for their vision.