Slew Of New Bills Aim To Reform Marijuana Laws At Federal Level

Image courtesy of Ryan Dearth

While the Trump Administration has hinted at a coming crackdown on non-medical use of marijuana, federal legislators continue to introduce new bills — some with bipartisan support — intended to further legitimize the cannabis industry.

This morning, members of both the House and Senate introduced legislation that — if passed — would extend federal tax benefits to locally legalized marijuana businesses, take away the threat of criminal prosecution and property loss for those businesses, and make sure the industry is contributing to the country’s bottom line by imposing a tax on marijuana sales.

While a number of states legalized marijuana, the companies that produce and sell cannabis products are not currently able to claim deductions or tax credits in the way that most businesses can. The Small Business Tax Equity Act [PDF] would tweak the Internal Revenue Code to make sure that marijuana businesses would be able to enjoy these benefits — so long as they are operating legally according to their relevant state laws.

This bill is being introduced in the Senate by Oregon’s Ron Wyden, with Sen. Rand Paul (KY) as co-sponsor. Rep. Earl Blumenauer, also of Oregon, is introducing the legislation in the House, with Florida’s Carlos Curbelo co-sponsoring.

Despite state laws legalizing medical and recreational marijuana use and sales, the federal government still categorizes cannabis as a Schedule 1 controlled substance — the same designation given to heroin. Federal law currently prohibits the Justice Department from prosecuting medical marijuana operations in states where they are legal, but recreational pot stores and producers face a continuous threat of arrest, prosecution, and asset forfeiture.

A second bill, the Responsibly Addressing the Marijuana Policy Gap Act [PDF], addresses this issue by removing the possibility of federal criminal penalties and civil asset forfeiture for people and companies that comply with state law.

This bill also attempts to a number of other financial issues that marijuana businesses face because the drug is outlawed on a federal level. It would be legal for pot sellers to advertise in states where their businesses are allowed, though there would be restrictions on TV ads that encourage people to travel from places where pot is not legal to where it has been legalized.

Banks holding accounts of legal marijuana businesses would no longer be at risk of federal prosecution or of losing their FDIC insurance. Similarly, federal banking regulators would not be allowed to discourage financial institutions from doing business with legalized cannabis operations.

On a personal level, previous marijuana-related violations can prevent people from getting public housing or a federal student loan. This bill would provide an expungement process for these individuals, making sure that minor marijuana offenses are not the only barrier for entry to federal programs. Similarly, legal use of marijuana would not be sufficient grounds to deport or deny entry to the U.S. for an individual.

The bill also aims to lift restrictions that prevent veterans from having legal access to medical marijuana in states that have allowed it.

Finally, there’s the Marijuana Revenue and Regulation Act [PDF], which would not only take away marijuana’s Schedule 1 classification, but remove it altogether from the federal schedule of controlled substances. The goal would be for pot to be regulated much like alcohol is now regulated. States would still be able to decide that marijuana is illegal, but in states where it is allowed, marijuana producers, importers, and wholesalers would need to obtain permits from the U.S. Treasury Department. Much like the government currently imposes excise taxes on beer, wine, booze, and tobacco, there would be an excise tax on legalized marijuana, gradually increasing to a maximum of 25% of the sales price.

Aaron Smith, executive director of the National Cannabis Industry Association, says today’s barrage of bills is more evidence of the changing federal attitude toward marijuana.

“State-legal cannabis businesses have added tens of thousands of jobs, supplanted criminal markets, and generated tens of millions in new tax revenue,” says Smith. “States are clearly realizing the benefits of regulating marijuana and we are glad to see a growing number of federal policy makers are taking notice.”

Sen. Wyden and Rep. Blumenauer are both from Oregon, where in 2014 voters approved a ballot measure legalizing marijuana.

“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.” Sen. Wyden said in a statement. “This three-step approach will spur job growth and boost our economy all while ensuring the industry is being held to a fair standard.”

“As more states follow Oregon’s leadership in legalizing and regulating marijuana, too many people are trapped between federal and state laws,” Rep. Blumenauer said. “It’s not right, and it’s not fair. We need change now – and this bill is the way to do it.”