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Bill to end federal marijuana prohibition to be introduced in Congress today

Feb 5, 2013

Well that was fast: Just three months after Colorado and Washington’s historic bills to legalize marijuana at the state level, Democratic Reps. Earl Blumenauer of Oregon and Jared Polis of Colorado plan to introduce a set of bills in Congress Tuesday that will end the federal prohibition on marijuana.

Ending the federal prohibition on marijuana isn’t the same thing as legalizing it nationally, but it would allow states to legalize pot without conflict with the federal government.

Blumenauer and Polis‘ bills take a two-prong approach: First, removing marijuana from the Schedule I class of drugs—the same class as heroin and an even more draconian designation than cocaine. Second, it would regulate marijuana the same way the government regulates alcohol, issuing permits for distribution and implementing an excise tax on the sale.

For all practical purposes marijuana would be classified the same as alcohol in that it would be in the states’ jurisdiction to create their own rules around legal consumption. A federally mandated age restriction would probably still apply. From the AP:

Polis’ measure would regulate marijuana the way the federal government handles alcohol: In states that legalize pot, growers would have to obtain a federal permit. Oversight of marijuana would be removed from the Drug Enforcement Administration and given to the newly renamed Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Marijuana and Firearms, and it would remain illegal to bring marijuana from a state where it’s legal to one where it isn’t.

Blumenauer’s office said Monday that tax revenue from the new regulations should be in the ballpark of $20 billion per year, which he recommends allocating towards “law enforcement, substance abuse treatment and the national debt.”

This isn’t the first time a bill to end the federal marijuana prohibition has been introduced, and the bills have failed previously. But Blumenauer thinks this time is different. “You folks in Washington and my friends in Colorado really upset the apple cart,” he said. “We’re still arresting two-thirds of a million people for use of a substance that a majority feel should be legal. … It’s past time for us to step in and try to sort this stuff out.”

And a critical mass of momentum is building at the state level in support of marijuana legalization. After Colorado and Washington’s votes, Hawaii introduced a bill to legalize pot just this month. Even conservatives are starting to support some of the measures—AP notes Mitch McConnell came out last week in support of a bill to legalize hemp production in Kentucky and U.S. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., “is expected to introduce legislation allowing states to set their own policy on marijuana.”

Ending federal prohibitions on marijuana and same sex marriage have been rally cries for progressives in recent years. The Supreme Court announced that it will hear a case challenging same sex marriage prohibition this spring, but if Blumenauer and Polis get their way, marijuana may even win the race.

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