Members of the U.S. House and Senate are introducing a package of sweeping marijuana law reform bills on Thursday, under the banner of “The Path to Marijuana Reform.”
Led by U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden (D-OR), Rand Paul (R-KY) and Michael Bennet (D-CO), along with Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Jared Polis (D-CO) and Carlos Curbelo (R-FL), the legislation would, among other things:
- Deschedule cannabis
- Allow marijuana businesses to access banks
- Reform the 280E tax penalty that disallows cannabis growers and sellers from deducting business expenses
- Remove collateral consequences of marijuana convictions such as loss of college financial aid
- Set a federal excise tax on legal marijuana sales
- Remove roadblocks to marijuana research
- Allow veterans to get medical cannabis recommendations via Department of Veterans Affairs doctors
- Exempt people complying with state laws from federal prohibition
- Treat cannabis similar to alcohol under federal statutes and transfer enforcement authority from DEA to the renamed Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Marijuana, Firearms and Explosives
Not all of the members listed above are signed on to all the bills, of which there are seven altogether.
“The federal government must respect the decision Oregonians made at the polls and allow law-abiding marijuana businesses to go to the bank just like any other legal business,” Wyden said in a press release, referring to the voter-approved marijuana legalization law on the books in his state.
Blumenauer added, “As more states follow Oregon’s leadership in legalizing and regulating marijuana, too many people are trapped between federal and state laws. It’s not right, and it’s not fair. We need change now – and this bill is the way to do it.”
Curbelo said that federal tax laws “should afford all businesses selling legal products the opportunity to make appropriate deductions,” adding that his 280E reform legislation is”consistent with our federalist model of government, respecting states’ rights and the decisions made voters all across the country.”
While the standalone bills provide opportunities to demonstrate support for marijuana policy reform within Congress, few advocates expect them to actually be brought to votes.
Most of the action on Capitol Hill, rather, will focus on attaching cannabis policy rider amendments to much broader appropriations bills. For the past two fiscal years, for example, Congress has enacted measures that prevent the Justice Department from spending money to interfere with state medical marijuana laws. A broader amendment to restrict the feds from going after state recreational laws failed by just nine votes on the House floor in 2015.
In a phone interview, Polis told MassRoots that he’s “optimistic” both measures have enough votes to pass if they make it to the floor this year, saying that as a result of new cannabis ballot initiatives being enacted in November “more members have interest” in stopping the federal government from interfering with their states’ laws.
It’s an open question as to whether there will be votes on the cannabis amendments in 2017, however, as last year House leadership begin restricting the scope of policy riders that were allowed to come to the floor in accordance with the rules that spending bills are considered under.
Last summer, for example, proposed amendments on banking services for marijuana businesses and Washington, D.C.’s ability to spend its own money regulating cannabis were blocked from even being considered on the House floor.
Polis, a member of the House Rules Committee, the panel that will decide which amendments are allowed to make it to the floor, said it was too early to predict whether the marijuana measures would be cleared for consideration, though he did say that cannabis is “not one of the definitive issues” that would determine leadership’s approach to policy amendments this year.
The blocking of marijuana amendments last year came after contentious partisan fights over riders concerning LGBT rights, for example.
Summaries and full text of several of the new cannabis bills can be read here.