This week saw the first major policy announcement to come from a lawmaker belonging to the Congressional Cannabis Caucus. Caucus member and Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) is teaming up with fellow Oregon Senator Ron Wyden to introduce several changes to the country’s marijuana laws. Together, lawmakers have announced a serious path to cannabis reform. Could their proposals also signal the first step to legalization?
Major Move From The Congressional Cannabis Caucus
Back in February, a group of four lawmakers founded the Congressional Cannabis Caucus.
State legalization proceeded quickly under the Obama administration. Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder did not have any interest in interfering with states’ own approach to cannabis legalization. Of course, they were not really greasing the wheels at the federal level, either.
But with the election of Donald Trump and his appointing the virulently anti-cannabis Jeff Sessions as AG, lawmakers felt a sense of urgency to protect and advocate for cannabis reform. Thus, the Cannabis Caucus was born.
The group of lawmakers aim to generate bipartisan support for reforming federal marijuana laws and, in the meantime, loosening regulations and taxes on legal cannabis businesses.
The First Steps Toward Full Legalization
In an executive summary released this week, Senator Wyden and Congressman Blumenauer laid out their “Path to Marijuana Reform” which includes three bills designed to lay the groundwork for federal legalization.
Beyond simply reforming federal law, the package of bills also aims to clear the cloud of uncertainty looming over the legal cannabis businesses.
Those businesses face serious challenges due to federal prohibition. The legal cannabis business touches many sectors of the economy. Retailers, researchers, healthcare, and growers all face serious issues like penalties, asset forfeiture, even jail time.
Marijuana businesses face difficulties like working with federally-backed banks, renting property, testing products, processing payments, or hiring legal representation.
The IRS unequally burdens legal cannabis businesses with high tax penalties that no other legal businesses have to pay.
Despite all those obstacles, the legal cannabis industry has grown at an astonishing rate. Projections say the industry could support as many as 300,000 jobs and contribute $24 billion to the economy by 2025.
Businesses, of course, are not the only entities suffering under the current federal prohibition. Every day consumers and medical cannabis patients also face grave consequences.
For example, it is possible for federal agents to arrest and prosecute cannabis consumers even in states where the weed is legal. Beyond financial penalties and jail time, those convicted are unable to obtain public housing or even federal loans for college. Non-citizens face deportation or denied entry.
3 Bills Announce Path To Cannabis Reform
The first bill proposed by Wyden and Blumenauer would eliminate the tax penalties on legal cannabis businesses. Those businesses are currently unfairly singled-out, according to the lawmakers. Cannabis businesses cannot claim any deductions or tax credits. The “Small Business Tax Equity Act” would take care of that.
The second bill is the “Responsibly Addressing the Marijuana Policy Gap Act.” This wide-reaching bill aims to correct many of the inconsistencies that put weed-legal states and the federal government against at odds. The Act would remove the criminal and civil penalties for people and business that comply with state cannabis laws. It would also allow businesses to access the financial and legal services all other legal businesses enjoy.
Furthermore, it would put in place a process for getting marijuana convictions off a person’s record, allowing them to access public housing and student loans. Finally, the bill would protect non-citizens from deportation due to cannabis and protect Native American tribes from federal cannabis laws.
The third bill creates a further path to cannabis reform by laying out a process to reschedule, tax, and regulate marijuana. The idea is to treat cannabis very similarly to alcohol in terms of regulation and taxation. Furthermore, the bill would create rules that back up states which decide not to legalize cannabis.
Ultimately, the aim is to create better agreement between federal cannabis policy and what individual states decide to do. For this reason, the “Path To Marijuana Reform” is a legitimate first step to legalization.