Polis proposes legal pot fix at federal level

Glenn Wallace
Posted

Colorado and Washington have been in legal limbo for months since voters approved recreational use of marijuana because federal law continues to deem the substance as illegal.

Addressing that discrepancy, U.S. Rep. Jared Polis (D), representing the state's 2nd Congressional District, proposed legislation Feb. 5 titled the Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2013.

“What this bill doesn't do is make marijuana illegal in any jurisdiction where it currently is considered illegal,” Polis said during a press teleconference last week.

Polis went on to say that where and when marijuana has been deemed legal by a state — whether for recreational use or in cases of medicinal marijuana — buyers and sellers would have “room to operate” without fear of federal raids or prosecution.

The bill would remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act, and move enforcement of marijuana law from the Drug Enforcement Association to “a newly renamed Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Marijuana, and Firearms.”

U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D) of Oregon presented his own piece of legislation at the same time, establishing a federal tax system to collect revenue from the sale of marijuana where it has been legalized. The congressmen estimate that taxing marijuana like alcohol or tobacco could result in $20 billion in federal revenue in the first year alone.

“There is an enormous evolution in American public opinion on marijuana,” Polis said, adding that these bills represented an attempt by congress to reduce the lag between legislation and popular sentiment.

Blumenauer said that the enforcement of federal marijuana laws “cost a minimum of $5.5 billion dollars each year.”

The Oregon congressman said by taxing the drug instead, revenues could be generated to pay for drug treatment and law enforcement.

The taxes laid out in Blumenauer's bill include a 50 percent excise tax on marijuana when it is sold from producers to manufacturers.

States or counties that do not wish to legalize marijuana would have that ability, much like some counties decided to remain alcohol-free following prohibition, the congressmen said.

Blumenauer and Polis said they were part of a nonpartisan group of 20 representatives working on marijuana-related legislation.

Polis said test-votes on some of their legislative ideas had been close to passing in the last congress, and that he had hopes for these to reach the president's desk.

“I think it's a question of when, not if,” Polis said.

Asked for comment on the proposed bills, U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D) spokeswoman Leslie Oliver said the congressman has not had adequate time to study the bill to comment specifically.

“But Ed has been supportive of comprehensive measures to resolve conflicts between federal and state laws on marijuana issues, and is reviewing the Polis legislation,” Oliver said.

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