On February 8, the office of Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) in Washington, D.C., announced that he had introduced S. 420, a bill to “legalize and responsibly regulate and tax marijuana.”

In a prepared statement, Wyden also announced that the bill is one of three intended to “preserve the integrity of state marijuana laws and provide a path for responsible federal legalization and regulation of the marijuana industry.”

“The federal prohibition of marijuana is wrong, plain and simple,” Wyden said. “Too many lives have been wasted, and too many economic opportunities have been missed. It’s time Congress make the changes Oregonians and Americans across the country are demanding.”

The Package of Bills

S. 420, titled the Marijuana Revenue and Regulation Act, would deschedule, tax, and regulate marijuana. It would also “impose an excise tax on marijuana products similar to current federal excise taxes on alcohol and tobacco, escalating annually to a top rate equal to 25 percent of the sales price.” Marijuana businesses would need to obtain a federal permit, also in a regulatory scheme similar to that affecting alcohol. Finally, “strict rules would prohibit sale or distribution of marijuana in states where it is illegal under state law.”

The next bill, the Responsibly Addressing the Marijuana Policy Gap Act (S. 421), would take various steps to align state and federal marijuana law. This includes ending asset forfeiture, allowing access to banking, and permitting research and advertising. The bill also addresses expungement, allowing people to clear their records, which in turn allows them better access to education, housing, and employment. It would also allow veterans to access medical cannabis in legal states and end federal enforcement of marijuana law on Indian land.

The last of the three bills is the Small Business Tax Equity Act (S. 422), which “would treat state-legal marijuana businesses like other small businesses by repealing the tax penalty that singles out marijuana businesses and bars them from claiming deductions and tax credits.” This would level the playing field for state-legal cannabis businesses in relation to other businesses.  

This legislative package has also been filed in the House. Earl Blumenauer, a congressman who is also from Oregon, which was the first state to decriminalize and where recreational use is legal, introduced H.R. 420 in January.

“Oregon has been and continues to be a leader in commonsense marijuana policies and the federal government must catch up,” said Blumenauer. “The American people have elected the most pro-cannabis Congress in American history and significant pieces of legislation are being introduced. The House is doing its work and with the help of Senator Wyden’s leadership in the Senate, we will break through.”

Will 2019 Be the Year?

There is cause for optimism that these reform bills may have better chances of success than previous ones. For example, federal marijuana reform now has the support of some Republicans, for example Rand Paul (R-KY). In addition, President Donald Trump has, in casual remarks, voiced support for the right of states to legalize. In addition, several other states are likely to adopt some form of legalization this year, making continued federal intransigence less tenable. This could be the year that major cannabis reform comes to Washington.

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