Legalization Hits the Hill

New bills in Congress would take Colorado's tax-and-regulate model for pot nationwide

Jared Polis
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Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colorado), who introduced a bill to end federal marijuana prohibition.
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Two progressive Democrats introduced bills this week to treat marijuana like alcohol under federal law.

Seeking to take his state's pot law national, Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colorado) introduced the End Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2013, which would remove marijuana from Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act and from the jurisdiction of the DEA. Its regulation would become the responsibility of a revamped Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Marijuana, Firearms and Explosives. Under Polis' bill, growers in states where marijuana is legal would have to receive a federal permit. Transporting marijuana to states where it is still prohibited would remain a crime.

Legalization's Biggest Enemies

In a companion measure, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Oregon) introduced the Marijuana Tax Equity Act, which would establish a federal excise tax for marijuana sales, just like the tax that the feds currently levy on alcohol. The act would impose a 50 percent excise tax on wholesale pot, as well as taxing growers $1,000 a year and retailers and distributors $500. Blumenauer said the measure could raise at least $100 billion over the next decade. "You folks in Washington and my friends in Colorado really upset the apple cart," Blumenauer said. "We're still arresting two-thirds of a million people for use of a substance that a majority feel should be legal. It's past time for us to step in and try to sort this stuff out."

The Next Seven States to Legalize Pot

Both bills are long shots in Congress. But the high-profile legislative push still delights advocates of cannabis reform. "Regulating and taxing marijuana like alcohol will take marijuana sales away from cartels and the criminal market and put them in the hands of legitimate, tax-paying businesses," said Steve Fox, a director of the Marijuana Policy Project. "Voters and elected officials nationwide are fed up with laws that criminalize adults simply for using a product that is objectively less harmful than alcohol."

"The American people clearly support marijuana policy reform," added Bill Piper, a director of the Drug Policy Alliance. "This year is the year to change federal law."