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Polis marijuana bill a step in the right direction

Weekly Columnist

Published: Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Updated: Friday, August 23, 2013 16:08

Since Colorado and Washington residents voted overwhelmingly to legalize the recreational use of marijuana, everyone has been wondering how the federal government will react. Much to the dismay of state regulators and marijuana aficionados alike, the Obama administration has stayed nearly silent on the issue, leaving open the possibility of federal interference with the law’s implementation. As marijuana remains illegal for any use under federal law, the president would be completely within his legal powers to intervene and prevent marijuana retail establishments from opening in states that allow them.

Rather than wait and see whether Obama will enforce the laws on the books or turn a blind eye, some legislators are working to change the laws. Last week, United States representatives Jared Polis (D-Colorado) and Earl Blumenauer (D-Oregon) introduced the Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2013. This bill would essentially treat marijuana like alcohol, leaving its legalization up to the states while establishing a federal regulatory system for the states that do decide to allow its use. This proposal is a long-overdue change to federal drug policy, and should be passed into law.

The bill does a wide variety of things to ensure that states are in control of their own marijuana policies, just as they are with alcohol. First, it removes marijuana from the federal Controlled Substances Act, where it is currently considered a Schedule I substance on par with heroin and LSD, while keeping in place laws that prevent marijuana from being transported into a state where it is still illegal. It then sets up a regulatory system for legal marijuana production, requiring commercial producers to get a permit from the Department of the Treasury. Those growing marijuana for personal use do not need to obtain a permit, just like those producing alcohol for their own consumption. Finally, it takes marijuana law enforcement out of the hands of the Drug Enforcement Administration and gives it to the newly-renamed Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Marijuana, Firearms and Explosives.

These changes should be common sense to anyone who pays attention to drug policy. Marijuana became a Schedule I drug due to misinformation and fear mongering, with a vast majority of modern academic inquiries showing that it is objectively less harmful than its legal counterparts, alcohol and tobacco. The federal government continues to spend billions of taxpayer dollars every year fighting its production, sale and use with little impact on the rate of any of those activities. With two states now allowing its recreational use, it makes no sense for the federal government to expend resources on enforcing marijuana prohibition, especially in today’s fiscal environment.

While this bill is incredibly important for Colorado and Washington, it is not just about those two states. Marijuana is now legal for medical uses in 18 states and Washington D.C.. Our home state of Connecticut legalized its use last year, and is currently working to implement the new law. However, marijuana remains federally illegal for any use, even when used in consultation with a doctor and with permission from the state. Polis’ proposal would end this conflict, permitting these 19 jurisdictions to allow sick people to access the medicine that works best for them.

Finally, this bill is also for the 32 states that do not allow marijuana for any use. If passed, it would leave marijuana policy up to states, allowing them to continue its prohibition or allow its use. The federal government would continue working to prevent marijuana from being transported into states where it is illegal. But it would stop wasting money on enforcing its costly blanket prohibition, saving the taxpayers of these states billions per year.

The Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2013 is a much-needed step in the right direction for federal drug policy. Some doubt it will pass, but others beg to differ—since its announcement, the bill already has 12 sponsors from both sides of the aisle. If enough lawmakers step up and become sponsors, it has a strong chance. And convincing them shouldn’t be difficult—recent polls all show marijuana legalization with more support than continuing its ban. If you’re part of that majority, call your representative and tell him or her to get on the right side of history and sponsor the Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2013. 

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