In another sign of the nation’s shifting attitude toward marijuana, two U.S. congressmen have introduced bills that would decriminalize marijuana and tax it like tobacco or alcohol.
Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colorado) is sponsoring the Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act, which would permit states to choose whether to allow marijuana for medicinal or recreational use. Federal regulation of marijuana would also be transferred from the Drug Enforcement Administration to a newly renamed Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Marijuana and Firearms.
Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Oregon) is sponsoring the Marijuana Tax Equity Act, which would create a federal excise tax on marijuana in states where it is grown and sold legally.
Voters in Washington and Polis’ home state of Colorado recently voted to decriminalize marijuana. Medical marijuana is already legal in 18 states and the District of Columbia.
“There has been an enormous evolution of American opinion on marijuana. Americans are sick and tired of the costs of marijuana prohibition, whether it’s the financial costs or the human costs. Americans are saying enough is enough, let’s try a new policy. We need to address drug use as a public health issue, not a criminal justice one,” said Rep. Polis.
“We are in the process of a dramatic shift in the marijuana policy landscape,” said Rep. Blumenauer. “Public attitude, state law, and established practices are all creating irreconcilable difficulties for public officials at every level of government. We want the federal government to be a responsible partner with the rest of the universe of marijuana interests while we address what federal policy should be regarding drug taxation, classification, and legality.”
The two congressmen have also co-authored a report, “The Path Forward: Rethinking Federal Marijuana Policy.” The report stresses the enormous costs of criminalizing marijuana, including the arrest of 660,000 people for marijuana possession in 2011. The report claims enforcement of federal marijuana laws costs taxpayers $5.5 billion dollars a years.
The two bills are receiving praise from marijuana advocates across the nation.
“There remains a lingering conflict between state and federal law,” said Erik Altiere, communications director of NORML, a marijuana reform lobbying group. “These historic measures seek to resolve this conflict and empower states to dictate their own marijuana policies, without fear of federal incursion.”
It’s not just Democrats from liberal states supporting marijuana reform. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) is supporting efforts to legalize hemp in his home state and Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-California) is expected to introduce legislation allowing states to set their own policies on marijuana.
The last 40 years have seen a major sea-change in attitudes toward cannabis. In the early 1970s, less than 15 percent of Americans were in favor of legalizing the substance. Today, polls show a majority of Americans now support decriminalization.
Doctors Offered Course in Medical Marijuana Use
In fact, marijuana has become so accepted that health care providers will now be able to receive education credits for taking courses in medical marijuana. A certified medical education program called “Cannabis in Medicine: A Primer for Health Care Professionals” will be held at a Washington D.C. hotel later this month. The four-hour program, which is accredited by the University of California-San Francisco, includes an overview of the medical use of cannabis, in addition to basic science, clinical trials, safety information and advice for physicians and nurses.
“We’ve seen the best and worst cases of patient care,” said Dr. Donald Abrams, professor of clinical medicine at UCSF. “We hope to share what we have learned over the years with physicians on the East coast, where there has been a little exposure to medical cannabis.”