- The Washington Times - Friday, February 8, 2019

Marijuana reform received a fresh push Friday from Sen. Ron Wyden, Oregon Democrat, in the form of a bill to federally legalize, tax and regulate pot sales.

The ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, Mr. Wyden introduced S. 420, the Marijuana Revenue and Regulation Act, as part of a bicameral push to end prohibition by passing a package of bills aimed at establishing a legal, nationwide cannabis industry.

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

Specifically, Mr. Wyden’s bill would amend federal law to remove marijuana from the government’s list of controlled substances, impose an excise tax on marijuana products similar to alcohol and tobacco and require that growers, importers and wholesalers obtain permits issued by the U.S. Department of Treasury.

The bill is among a trio proposed by Mr. Wyden as part of “Path to Marijuana Reform” being simultaneously pursued in the House by Rep. Earl Blumenauer, Oregon Democrat, repeating efforts unsuccessfully mounted by the lawmakers during the last Congress.

Weeks since Democrats took the reins of the House from Republicans as a result of the Nov. 2018 midterm elections, Mr. Blumenauer, the chairman of the bipartisan Congressional Cannabis Caucus, indicated that lawmakers are more inclined than ever to end marijuana prohibition.

“The American people have elected the most pro-cannabis Congress in American history and significant pieces of legislation are being introduced,” Mr. Blumenauer said in a statement. “The House is doing its work and with the help of Senator Wyden’s leadership in the Senate, we will break through.”

Mr. Blumenauer introduced a similar bill in the House last month, H.R. 420, the Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act, that would decriminalize the plant at the federal level in addition to transferring enforcement authority from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration to agencies including the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF).

Seven states, including Oregon, have enacted laws permitting licensed dispensaries to sell retail marijuana to adults, flying in the face of federal prohibition and the plant’s categorization under the DEA’s list of controlled substances as a Schedule 1 narcotic subject to the government’s most stringent restrictions.

Indeed, other proposals pitched as part of the lawmakers’ path to federal reform includes a measure aimed more broadly at resolving problems posed by conflicting state and federal pot laws, as well as a bill that would eliminate a tax penalty faced by state-legal marijuana business.

“This legislation would be a boon for the cannabis industry and for states that have enacted effective laws, but it is vital that the federal tax rates be established in a way that does not incentivize the continuation of the illicit market,” said Aaron Smith, executive director of the National Cannabis Industry Association, the largest trade group of its kind in the country. “It is equally important that small businesses, which would be disproportionately impacted by heavy federal taxes of any sort, be allowed to stay competitive in the industry.”

Kevin Sabet, the president of an anti-legalization group, Smart Approaches to Marijuana, countered by claiming the bill’s passage would be “allow for and encourage the establishment of an industry that regularly produces and markets kid-friendly, high potency pot products.”

“This industry is no longer about the Woodstock hippies, it’s about Wall Street,” he said in a statement. “The legacy of marijuana legalization is not social justice, tax revenues, and reduced prison populations. Instead, legalization is connected to increased drugged driving fatalities, skyrocketing emergency room visits, the marketing of pot to pregnant women, continued arrest disparities and increased heavy and dangerous use.”

Over 60 percent of U.S. voters support legalizing marijuana, according to polling conducted by Gallup and Quinnipiac University in 2017 and 2018, respectively.

Rep. Jerry Nadler, New York Democrat and chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said last month that Congress will consider federal marijuana reform “fairly soon.”

• Andrew Blake can be reached at ablake@washingtontimes.com.

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