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Marijuana Legalization 2013: Respect State Marijuana Laws Act Would Ban Federal Crackdowns

A bipartisan bill introduced in Congress today would, if passed, protect individual marijuana consumers, as well medical and non-medical marijuana businesses operating in states in which they are legal. If the law is approved, it would shelte both medical and recreational users from prosecution under federal marijuana laws.

The legislation, sponsored by U.S. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.), would modify the Controlled Substances Act so that anyone acting in compliance with a state marijuana law would be immune from federal prosecution. The Respect State Marijuana Laws Act, H.R. 1523, would add the following provision to the current law:

"Notwithstanding any other provision of law, the pro-visions of this subchapter related to marihuana shall not apply to any person acting in compliance with State laws relating to the production, possession, distribution, dispensation, administration, or delivery of marihuana."

Republicans and Democrats are coming together in support of the legislation that would prohibit the government from interfering with state marijuana laws. Co-sponsors of the bill include Reps. Justin Amash (R-Mich.), Don Young (R-Ark.), Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), and Jared Polis (D-Colo.).

"This bipartisan bill represents a common-sense approach that establishes federal government respect for all states' marijuana laws," said Rohrabacher. "It does so by keeping the federal government out of the business of criminalizing marijuana activities in states that don't want it to be criminal."

The widespread bipartisan support for the bill reflects a national trend that, for the first time in more than four decades, shows a majority of Americans in favor of legalizing the use of marijuana. A survey released last week by the Pew Research Center found that 60% of Americans believe the federal government should not enforce federal laws prohibiting the use of marijuana in states where it is legal. The survey found that 65% of Millennials favor legalizing the use of marijuana, nearly double the 36% support in 2008. There also has been a striking change in long-term attitudes among older generations, particularly Baby Boomers, 50% of whom now favor legalizing marijuana.

While the bill does not attempt to legalize the drug in individual states, it would immunize individuals in states taking measures to reform marijuana laws from federal prosecution. Currently, 18 states and the District of Columbia allow patients with qualifying conditions to use medical marijuana with recommendations from their physicians. In November, voters in Colorado and Washington State took steps towards legalizing marijuana for adults 21 and older and directing state regulatory bodies to create regulations for businesses to cultivate and sell marijuana to adults. 

"Marijuana prohibition is on its last legs because most Americans no longer support it," said Steve Fox, the national political director for the Marijuana Policy Project. "This legislation presents a perfect opportunity for members to embrace the notion that states should be able to devise systems for regulating marijuana without their citizens having to worry about breaking federal law."

Support for the bill arises from not just moral, but practical and financial grounds as well. The Pew survey released last week found agreement across partisan and demographic groups that federal government enforcement of marijuana laws is not worth the cost. 78% of independents, 71% of Democrats and 67% of Republicans say government enforcement efforts cost more than they are worth. A 2007 study by Jon Gettman of the Coalition for Rescheduling Cannabis estimates that the marijuana industry costs U.S. taxpayers roughly $42 billion annually in enforcement costs and lost tax revenues.

"If a state chooses to take marijuana sales away from cartels and the criminal market and put them in the hands of legitimate, tax-paying businesses, it should be able to do so without federal interference," said Fox.

Have an opinion either way? Write to your state representative to voice your thoughts. Those with high hopes for the bill can send an automated message through the MPP. 

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