Voters in four states and Washington D.C. have elected to legalize the recreational use of cannabis for adults aged 21 years and older. To avoid spending tax dollars to enforce federal prohibition in these states and the 23 others that have legalized the medicinal use of the plant, the Cole Memorandum was drafted as an agreement between these states and the federal government.
The Cole Memo reads that as long as legal states can demonstrate that they are following all 8 of the required guidelines, like preventing the plant from being used by minors and preventing it from crossing state lines, the federal government will not interfere with state operations.
This means that at any time, the federal government could decide to go back on this agreement and seek to prosecute all state-legally operating marijuana businesses. In order to avoid such an event, Colorado Rep. Jared Polis and Oregon Rep. Earl Blumenauer have sponsored and filed two bills in Congress that would collectively legalize and tax marijuana on a federal level.
In a released statement, Rep. Polis explained,
“Over the past year, Colorado has demonstrated that regulating marijuana like alcohol takes money away from criminals and cartels, grows our economy, and keeps marijuana out of the hands of children.”
The Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act, H.R. 1013, introduced by Rep. Polis would remove marijuana from being listed as a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act. This legislation would allow marijuana to be regulated by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
Removing cannabis from the Schedule I listing, where it sits with heroin and LSD, would also open doors to scientific research. At this time, scientists are rarely granted access to study marijuana because being listed as a Schedule I means that it has “no accepted medicinal use in the United States.” Allowing the scientific study of the plant would allow us to find out exactly what healing powers are harnessed within the cannabis plant. It would also allow us to finally find out what, if any, the long term risks associated with use may be.
The legislation introduced by Rep. Blumenauer, H.R. 1014, is titled The Marijuana Tax Revenue Act of 2015. This bill allows for recreational marijuana purchases to have a federal excise tax attached that would start at 10 percent and rise to 25 percent over time. Medicinal marijuana purchases, however, would be exempt from this excise tax. This bill also establishes an occupational tax payable by cannabis businesses. Under this bill, the IRS would be required to conduct periodic studies of the industry in order to make operational recommendations to Congress.
While these pieces of joint legislation would not force all states to establish a recreational marijuana market, it would establish regulations for those that do choose to participate. Rep. Blumenauer explained why this is important,
“As more states move to legalize marijuana as Oregon, Colorado, Washington and Alaska have done. It’s imperative the federal government become a full partner in building a workable and safe framework.”
It will be interesting to see how far these bills get this year. Even if they do not make much traction in 2015, this is at least another step in the right direction to get lawmakers and citizens talking about all possible pros and cons of legalization.