Two Oregon lawmakers plan to introduce an ambitious marijuana law reform package in Congress Thursday, proposing a raft changes that could wipe away thousands of pot-related criminal convictions and make life much easier for everyone involved in the legal weed business.
Sen. Ron Wyden and Rep. Earl Blumenauer, both Democrats from a state that has legalized recreational marijuana, dubbed their joint proposal the “Path to Marijuana Reform,” and it reads like a wish list for drug policy geeks.
The catch, of course, is that Republicans control both houses of Congress, and social conservatives will almost certainly fight against the legislation. Recent polling shows 59 percent of all U.S. voters support marijuana legalization, but the majority of GOP constituents are still opposed.
There are three bills altogether. One deals specifically with tax issues related to the marijuana industry; another includes a variety of far-reaching reforms, such as easing restrictions on banking and medical research; and the third calls for descheduling marijuana, which would treat the drug like alcohol or tobacco under federal law, instead of like heroin.
Here’s a quick breakdown of what’s included in the bills. (The full text of all three is in a PDF at the end of this story.)
The Small Business Tax Equity Act would change the tax code “to allow businesses operating in compliance with state law to claim deductions and credits associated with the sale of marijuana like any other legal business.” The IRS currently treats state-sanctioned pot retailers like illicit drug traffickers, forcing them to pay exorbitant taxes.
The Marijuana Revenue And Regulation Act would remove cannabis from the list of drugs federally outlawed by the Controlled Substances Act. Currently, weed is listed in the Schedule I category, which is reserved for the most dangerous types of drugs.
States could still choose to outlaw marijuana and there would be “strict rules and penalties” for illegal transportation of pot across state lines, but federal descheduling would dramatically reshape the legal landscape for marijuana, essentially legalizing and taxing it like booze or cigarettes. The proposal would also create rules for advertising, packaging, and labeling pot products.
• State Protections
There’s a lot to unpack in the Responsibly Addressing The Marijuana Policy Gap Act, but most importantly the bill would “exempt any person acting in compliance with state marijuana law from criminal penalties” under the Controlled Substances Act. Basically, this change would prevent the feds from arresting or prosecuting anyone who abides by state rules.
• Criminal Records
The Policy Gap Act also calls for giving certain federal marijuana offenders a clean slate. The bill would create an “expungement process” for people who were busted by federal authorities for possessing less than an ounce of pot or for any “activity that was state legal at the time of offense.”
Most banks currently refuse to do business with marijuana-related businesses for fear of repercussions from federal regulators and law enforcement, but the bill would create a range of safeguards and do away with some red tape. This is a key issue for the marijuana industry, which has been forced to deal almost entirely in cash.
The bill would also allow failed pot businesses to declare bankruptcy, something they are not currently allowed to do under federal law.
• Drug Testing and Other “Individual Protections”
The federal government would no longer be able to use marijuana drug tests to block people from states with legal weed from applying for certain federal jobs. It would also allow some marijuana offenders to receive federal financial aid and live in federally assisted public housing; make certain weed-related crimes non-deportable offenses for undocumented immigrants; and do away with civil forfeiture for marijuana, which allows the feds to seize cash and property from people even if they haven’t been charged with a crime.
• Medical Marijuana
Health care workers at the Department of Veterans Affairs would be allowed to “provide recommendations and opinions” about medical marijuana. It would also be much easier for scientists to study the medical benefits of weed by “creating a new registration process specifically for medical marijuana that will reduce approval wait times, costly security measures, and unnecessary layers of protocol review.”
In a statement announcing the proposal, Wyden and Blumenauer noted that more than 20 percent of all Americans live in the eight states that allow adults to use marijuana, and 95 percent of country has access to some form of legal weed via medical marijuana laws. They also cited research that projects the pot industry will create nearly 300,000 jobs by 2020.
Wyden said his “three-step approach” will “spur job growth and boost our economy,” while Blumenauer, who represents much of Portland, lamented that “too many people are trapped between federal and state laws.”
The duo is set to discuss the proposal in detail Wednesday, and a spokesperson for Wyden, who has been one of the Trump administration’s most outspoken critics in the Senate, said he plans to address likely opposition from the Department of Justice and Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
Earlier this month, Sessions said he rejects “the idea that America will be a better place if marijuana is sold in every corner store,” and that he thinks weed is only “slightly less awful” than heroin. Wyden’s spokesperson said the senator plans to argue that Sessions “seems to favor states’ rights only when he thinks the state is right.”
President Donald Trump vowed on the campaign trail to respect state decisions on marijuana legalization, and Sessions has said he plans to keep Obama-era marijuana enforcement guidelines in place for the time being. But without changes to federal law like the ones proposed by Wyden and Blumenauer, Sessions and Trump have the power to reverse that decision and crack down on legal weed whenever they want.