Though previous efforts have faltered in Congress, Reps. Jared Polis (D-CO) and Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) insisted Tuesday their plan to overhaul the nation’s marijuana laws was not in vain.
On a conference call, Polis and Blumenauer emphasized their legislation was just a first step in reforming drug policy. Blumenauer said about 20 members of Congress were going to play a more active role in the near future, but refused to specific exactly who was going to join the effort. He claimed he didn’t want to step on anyone’s toes by speaking for them, and that the current legislation was only the first of about 8-10 marijuana bills that would be introduced.
Bill Piper, the Director of National Affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance, optimistically proclaimed that the United States was seeing the beginning of the end of marijuana prohibition. He noted that the majority of Americans now supported legalizing the recreational use of marijuana.
The polling firm Gallup found in 2011 that half of Americans supported legalizing marijuana, while 46 percent wished to keep the drug illegal.
Piper said the country was at “a tipping point” and that “changes are going to happen.” His optimism was reflected by Blumenauer and Polis, who insisted there was growing support to reform federal marijuana laws.
Polis said there had been an “enormous evolution of American opinion” regarding marijuana prohibition. Most Americans now believed the war on drugs was a failed policy, and were sick of the social and financial cost of enforcing marijuana prohibition.
Polis’s state of Colorado and the state of Washington both approved measures last year to legalize the recreational use of marijuana. However, the drug is still outlawed at the federal level, creating confusion regarding its actual legal status.
The bill introduced by Polis, the Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act, would remove marijuana from the federal Controlled Substances Act. Polis explained marijuana would remain illegal in states where it was currently prohibited, but provide states that have legalized the drug with “room to operate without constant fear” from the Drug Enforcement Administration and other federal agencies. The bill would limit the federal government to enforcing cross-border or inter-state trafficking laws.
Similar legislation introduced by former Reps. Barney Frank (D-MA) and Ron Paul (R-TX) in 2011 failed to gain much traction and died in the House.
Blumenauer’s bill, the Marijuana Tax Equity Act, would create a federal tax framework similar to the ones in place for the alcohol and tobacco industry. The legislation would impose a 50 percent excise tax on the first sale of marijuana as well as an occupational tax on those operating marijuana businesses. The bill would generate additional revenue, providing more resources for drug treatment and law enforcement, Blumenauer said.
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