Marijuana Legalization Proposed By Democrats, But Unlikely to Pass

Two congressional Democrats have introduced new legislation to change U.S. marijuana laws, including legalizing industrial production of hemp and establishing a huge federal marijuana tax.

Democratic representatives Earl Blumenauer of Oregon and Jared Polis of Colorado plan to introduce the legislation Tuesday.

Polis' plan would modify the way the U.S. regulates marijuana to be akin to alcohol laws, stripping the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) of its enforcement and oversight ability and granting it to the newly renamed Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Marijuana and Firearms. Pot growers in marijuana-legalizing states would have to obtain a federal permit. It would remain illegal to transfer marijuana across state borders in defiance of state law.

Blumenauer's measure would create a federal "first sale" marijuana excise tax, which would largely apply to sales from a grower to retailer. Based on "admittedly vague" estimates, Blumenauer says that a tax of $50 an ounce could raise $20 billion a year.

Last year's votes in Washington and Colorado to completely legalize marijuana may pressure Congress into eventually ending the federal prohibition on marijuana, the congressman said.

“You folks in Washington and my friends in Colorado really upset the apple cart,” Blumenauer commented. “We’re still arresting two-thirds of a million people for use of a substance that a majority feel should be legal ... It’s past time for us to step in and try to sort this stuff out.”

Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) has indicated he would like to hold a hearing on the disparity between state and federal marijuana laws, in particular urging to end "mandatory minimum" sentencing guidelines which lead to long stints in prison for nonviolent drug crimes.

A spokesman for the Drug Policy Alliance, which seeks to overturn onerous federal regulations on drugs, said that "we’re seeing enormous political momentum to undo the drug war failings of the past 40 years. For the first time, the wind is behind our back."

The measures have little chance of passing, according to Kevin Sabet, a former White House drug policy adviser. Sabet, along with former Rhode Island Rep. Patrick Kennedy and David Frum, a Bush administration speechwriter, founded Project SAM (Smart Approaches to Marijuana Legalization) to fight legalization campaigns.

"These are really extreme solutions to the marijuana problem we have in this country. The marijuana problem we have is a problem of addiction among kids, and stigma of people who have a criminal record for marijuana crimes," he said.

"There are a lot more people in Congress who think that marijuana should be illegal but treated as a public health problem, than think it should be legal."

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Tom McKay

Tom is a staff writer at Mic, covering national politics, media, policing and the war on drugs. He is based in New York and can be reached at tmckay@mic.com.

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