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Last week, Congressional legislators introduced two bills that—even if they’re destined to fail—could at least begin to change the dialogue around legalized marijuana.
Colorado Rep. Jared Polis, long an outspoken supporter of legalized marijuana, proposed the Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act, which would remove the drug from the federal list of controlled substances and place it in the same regulatory category as alcohol.
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Marijuana is currently listed as a Schedule 1 drug by the United States government. This classification places it alongside drugs such as heroin, LSD, ecstasy, and opium and probably is the single biggest factor sustaining the ongoing tension between established federal laws and emerging state-level legalization efforts.
Schedule 1 drugs are considered to have a high potential for abuse and have no accepted medical use, neither of which is true for marijuana. Although the body of research is far from complete, the rise of legalization has fueled new attempts to fully understand the long-term effects and benefits of cannabis. But the increasingly voluminous data that is available has shown weed to be far more innocuous than other Schedule 1 drugs (not to mention far more innocuous than alcohol on numerous levels), making its Schedule 1 classification objectively absurd.
The Polis bill would enable states to legalize marijuana without fear of reprisal from the feds, as long as businesses were producing and distributing it the same way lawful alcohol vendors do. Another bill proposed last week by Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Oregon), the Marijuana Tax Revenue Act, would set a 25 percent excise tax on federally regulated weed, a move that would help smooth out the financial wrinkles of legalization.
The problem, of course, is that neither of these bills is likely to become law. (Because, politics.) But each of them could be a valuable starting point for the discussion we need to have sooner, not later.
The Obama administration has taken a relatively hands-off approach on enforcement, but that isn’t guaranteed beyond 2016. Whoever our next president is might have a decidedly different take on legalization. So if you think there have been an abundance of lawsuits, controversies, and nuisances regarding legal weed so far, just wait. A more restrictive federal policy after the 2016 elections would put our national, state, and local governments in the precarious position of stripping rights from citizens that have already been approved and continue to enjoy majority support. By at least debating the Polis and Blumenauer bills, Congress would be recognizing the evolution of our societal attitudes about marijuana rather than just punting yet another important issue until another time.
Follow 5280 editor-at-large Luc Hatlestad on Twitter at @LucHatlestad.