Extensive National Media Coverage Re: Federal Legislation to End Marijuana Prohibition

NEW YORK—(ENEWSPF)—February 6, 2013. Extensive media coverage has been given over the past 24 hours sinceU.S. representatives from Colorado and Oregon proposed legislation to weaken federal restrictions on marijuana. What follows is some of the coverage given by various media sources.

Fox Business News, Ethan Nadelmann Debates Kevin Sabet on Marijuana Legalization Bills in Congress, February 5, 2013 

Time Magazine

Pot Plans: Efforts Surge in Congress to Reform Marijuana Laws, Alfonso Serrano, February 6, 2013

Driven by a groundswell of public opinion, Colorado and Washington state last November became the first states in the U.S. to legalize the recreational use of marijuana. That wave of support, it now seems clear, has echoed through the U.S. Congress, which Tuesday formally questioned the federal government’s prohibitionist drug policy in the form of marijuana reform bills.

Representatives Jared Polis, D-Colo., and Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., introduced two separate bills that would drastically change U.S. marijuana laws by addressing what they say are the human and fiscal costs associated with marijuana-related arrests.

It’s not the first time marijuana reform bill have been introduced in Congress, but Tuesday’s measures are considered historic in scope and give further momentum to a marijuana legalization movement that has surged recently from Colorado to Washington to Latin America.

The Polis bill, the Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act, would call on the federal government to regulate marijuana much like it does alcohol. Under the measure, cannabis growers would have to obtain a federal permit in states that legalize the drug. The bill does not force any state to legalize pot, but it does allow states that approve recreational and medical marijuana regulatory systems to operate without the fear of crackdowns from the Drug Enforcement Administration. The measure would also transfer authority to regulate marijuana from the DEA to a renamed Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Marijuana and Firearms.

“In my short time in Congress, and certainly over the last few decades, Americans have increasingly come to the conclusion that the drug war is a failed policy,” said Polis. “While substance abuse is a real problem we need to address, we need to address it increasingly as a public health issue more than a criminal issue.”

The Blumenauer bill, meanwhile, would create a taxation framework for pot similar to that in place for tobacco and alcohol. The Marijuana Tax Equity Act would impose an excise tax of 50% on the “first sale” of marijuana, from growers to processors or retailers. The measure would also tax pot producers $1,000 annually and other marijuana-related businesses $500. Blumenauer said that imposing such a tax would help lower the national deficit while providing funds for drug treatment centers and law enforcement units.

“There is an opportunity for us to make, at a minimum, a $100 billion difference over the next 10 years,” said Blumenauer.

There were 1.5 million drugs arrests made in the U.S. in 2011, according to the FBI. Of those arrests, over 660,000 were for possession of marijuana. The enforcement of federal marijuana laws, including incarceration, costs at least $5.5 billion annually, according to study by the CATO Institute. In New York state alone, the estimated cost of marijuana related arrests surpasses $75 million every year, according to the Drug Policy Alliance, a non-profit that supports drug policy reform.

Passage of the two bills remains a long shot, according to analysts, but Rep. Blumenauer said the measures are just the beginning of a Congressional push to reform what he calls “antiquated, ineffective and, in some cases, nonsensical federal policies and laws.” Blumenauer pointed to a growing swell of support for marijuana reform measures among his colleagues on Capitol Hill.

In December, Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said he intends to hold hearings on the conflicts between state and federal marijuana laws. And Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, D-Calif., is soon expected to introduce a measure that would allow states to establish pot policies without federal interference.

“These are the first two of what will probably be eight, 10 bills or more,” said Blumenauer, referring to Tuesday’s measures.  Added Polis: “There is growing support within the Democratic caucus and also within the Republican caucus for reexamining the future of the drug war.”

The sudden flurry of federal action on cannabis comes as national polls highlight an outpouring of support for marijuana legalization in recent years. A Gallup poll in October showed that a record high 50% of Americans believe marijuana should be legal. By contrast, just over 30% of Americans held the same view in 2000. Support for medical marijuana is even stronger. A 2012 Gallup poll indicated that 70% of Americans believe it should be legal for a doctor to prescribe pot to reduce pain and suffering.

“Congress is frequently a lagging indicator for public opinion,” said Polis. “Public opinion is that it should be up to states and local governments how to deal with marijuana—it’s just a question of how we’re going to catch up, not if.”

Wall Street Journal

Lawmakers Seek Easing Of Federal Pot Curbs, By Joel Milliman, February 6, 2013

U.S. representatives from Colorado and Oregon proposed legislation Tuesday to weaken federal restrictions on marijuana—the first steps in an attempt to address a growing gap between federal pot curbs and the increasing number of marijuana-friendly state laws.

Two bills introduced in the House would give states more regulatory control over the drug and establish a pot excise tax as part of a move toward eventual legalization of marijuana at the federal level, where sale and use of the drug is currently banned. The proposals are likely to face steep challenges.

Legislation from Rep. Jared Polis (D., Colo.) calls for federal law to let states legalize marijuana within their boundaries. It proposes oversight of marijuana laws be moved to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives from the Drug Enforcement Administration.

Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D., Ore.) introduced a bill calling for a federal excise tax on marijuana sales. “We are in the process of a dramatic shift in the marijuana policy landscape,” he said.

A spokeswoman for the Justice Department, which oversees both the ATF and the DEA, said the department had yet to review the bills.

States such as California and Oregon have allowed the sale and use of marijuana for medical purposes, while Colorado and Washington have gone further, legalizing recreational use.

Pro-legalization groups said the bills show Washington is adapting to changing attitudes. But opponents were critical. “If you legalize it, marijuana use will increase as will the social costs associated with it. And that will far outstrip any income we get from taxes,” said Dave Evans, special adviser to the Drug Free America Foundation. He emphasized he hadn’t read either bill.

Others were pessimistic about the bills’ chances of success.

“They’re going to suffer the same fate as Barney Frank and Ron Paul’s bills have over the past 15 years. They’re going to fail,” said Kevin Sabet, a former drug-policy advisor in the Obama administration. Mr. Sabet is a co-founder of SAM, Smart Approaches to Marijuana, a policy group that advocates a middle way between legalization and incarceration for marijuana offenses.

Write to Joel Millman at [email protected]


Pot plan pols: Legalization on horizon, Kevin Robillard, February 5, 2013

Two Congressmen on Tuesday unveiled a plan to end the federal prohibition on marijuana, the first such legislation introduced since voters in Colorado and Washington broke new ground by voting in November to legalize the drug.

“We’re in a situation now where our current federal policies regarding marijuana are hopelessly out-of-date,” said Rep. Earl Blumenauer, an Oregon Democrat, told POLITICO. “It’s a Schedule 1 drug. Who today thinks its more dangerous than cocaine or meth?”

Blumenauer is introducing a bill to tax marijuana. Legislation introduced by Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) would end federal marijuana prohibition, regulating the drug the same way the federal government regulates alcohol sales — by the states.

In a report released Tuesday, the congressman laid out a broader, five-part agenda: Removing the federal ban on marijuana and taxing the drug the same way Congress regulates and taxes alcohol; allowing states to offer medical marijuana without federal interference; ending the ban on industrial hemp; eliminating tax and banking barriers that prevent marijuana businesses from operating legally and creating a “Sensible Drug Policy Working Group” in Congress to push the other four ideas.

While their ideas have been proposed in the past — most prominently by retired congressmen Barney Frank of Massachusetts and Ron Paul of Texas — both men were confident an end to marijuana prohibition was just over the horizon. Beyond the drug’s legalization in Colorado and Oregon, polls now show a majority of voters support legalizing pot, and a December Gallup poll found 64 percent want the federal government to leave decisions on the drug to the states.

“Public opinion is there on this issue,” Polis said on a conference call with reporters. “Public opinion is leading. It’s just a matter of Congress catching up.”

Blumenauer, who was a freshman member of the Oregon state legislature when it voted to decriminalize small amounts of the drug in 1971, said he was confident at least one element of their plan — ending a ban on industrial hemp production — could pass this year. (Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, whose home state of Kentucky would benefit, recently endorsed such a move.) The other elements are mere years away.

“I’m absolutely confident all the pieces we’re advancing will be approved this decade,” Blumenauer said. “That’s where America is going.”

The two pieces of legislation introduced Tuesday would end the federal prohibition on the drug (which would remain illegal for recreational use in 48 states) and create a system to tax it. Blumenauer said the tax could raise $100 billion over the next decade, which would go to paying down the deficit, drug treatment and law enforcement.

The two congressman also said they are working with a larger, bipartisan group of around 20 members on marijuana issues, and expect about 12 pieces of legislation to be introduced over the course of the 113th Congress. While neither Blumenauer nor Polis would name names, a spokeswoman for Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) confirmed he was working on similar legislation.

Blumenauer said a key element of the legislation was allowing existing medical marijuana business — fully one-third of the country now lives in a state where medical marijuana is legal — into the full economy. Right now, banks will generally refuse to work with these companies, fearing the wrath of the federal government. This deprives the businesses of capital and forces them to deal exclusively in cash.

“This is a legal business under California, Oregon law — 19 jurisdictions, and we’re going to force it to be all cash?” he told POLITICO. “That’s an invitation for tax evasion, it’s an invitation for money laundering, robbery. And almost anyone you talk to agrees with that.”

The duo also said federal arrests for marijuana possession were still too common, totaling 660,000 in 2011.

“The president when pressed on the issue, famously said he had bigger fish to fry,” Blumenauer said. “The truth is, farther down the federal drug enforcement food chain, there are still people frying these small fish.”

San Jose Mercury

Bills would end federal marijuana ban, levy taxes, By Josh Richman, February 5th, 2013

Even as states keep chipping away at marijuana prohibition, some House members keep trying to change the federal law.

A bill being introduced by Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo., would end federal marijuana prohibition, letting states decide their own policies; it also would set up a regulatory process like the one for alcohol for states that choose to legalize the drug. Commercial marijuana producers would have to buy a permit, as commercial alcohol producers now do, to offset the costs of oversight by the newly renamed Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Marijuana and Firearms.

And a bill by Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., would establish a 50 percent federal excise tax on the first sale of marijuana, from the producer to the next stage of production, usually the processor. It also would impose an occupational tax on those operating in marijuana, with producers, importers and manufacturers facing an occupation tax of $1,000 per year and any other person engaged in the business facing an annual tax of $500 per year.

“Absolutely, there’s an opportunity for us to make at minimum a $100 billion difference over the next 10 years,” Blumenauer said on a conference call with reporters this afternoon, as the nation moves away from high law enforcement and prison costs and marijuana starts generating public revenue.

Polis said November’s successful legalization ballot measures in his state and Washington mark “an enormous evolution of American opinion on the issue.”

Most Americans now believe the war on drugs has failed and “enough is enough, let’s try a new way,” he said. “It’s an idea that’s time has come.”

Jesselyn McCurdy, senior counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union’s Washington legislative office, said the war on drugs has had disproportionate impact on communities of color. Students for Sensible Drug Policy executive director Aaron Houston said young people are disproportionately impacted as well.

“It’s clear that we’ve reached the tipping point,” said Bill Piper, national affairs director for the Drug Policy Alliance. “The American people are demanding reform, and members of Congress are starting to give it to them.”