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Rep. Jared Polis introduces congressional bill to treat marijuana like alcohol

Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) reintroduced the Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act on March 30 to attempt to protect the legal marijuana industry from potential executive action by President Donald Trump’s administration.

In response to growing uncertainty of the Trump administration’s stance on the marijuana industry, members of Congress recently collaborated to create the Cannabis Caucus – a bipartisan group formed to accelerate marijuana legislation. The group considers concerns that the industry could be threatened federally. According to the caucus, they try to provide a rational approach to federal cannabis policy.

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The group is composed of Republican and Democrat Congress members from states in which medical or recreational marijuana is legal.

Members of the Cannabis Caucus introduced four other bills on March 30 regarding cannabis reform:

  • Small Business Tax Equity Act of 2017
  • Responsibility Addressing the Marijuana Policy Gap (RAMP) Act
  • Marijuana Tax Revenue Act
  • Marijuana Revenue and Regulation Act

According to Polis’ statement on the bill, the Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act seeks to, “decriminalize marijuana at the Federal level, to leave to the States a power to regulate marijuana that is similar to the power they have to regulate alcohol, and for other purposes.”

The bill’s objectives are:

  • Remove marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug
  • Transition marijuana oversight from the Drug Enforcement Agency to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives
  • Regulate marijuana like alcohol by inserting it into the section of the U.S. Code that governs “intoxicating liquors”

The bill was originally introduced in 2015, but failed due to a lack of threat from federal intervention after the implementation of the Cole Memo.

The Cole Memo, implemented in 2013, offered solidified guidance regarding marijuana regulation. Essentially, it stated that the Department of Justice would abide by the Controlled Substance Act. The memo rid of any threat of marijuana legalization to the federal government by solidifying rational objectives and guidelines for regulation. It created an agreement between state and federal governments that the federal government would avoid any type of intervention if the Controlled Substance Act was properly upheld.

Yet, the Trump administration’s stance is unclear and wavering, causing uncertainties within Congress members, leading to an acceleration of bills proposed involving marijuana, much like Polis’s bill.

“The President has said time and again that the decision about marijuana needs to be left to the states,” Polis said in a statement in response to White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer’s statements suggesting the administration would increase enforcement. “These comments leave doubt and uncertainty for the marijuana industry, stifling job growth in my state. The public has spoken on recreational marijuana, we’ve seen it work in Colorado, and now is the time to lift the federal prohibition.”

According to Polis, following the November election, one out of five Americans reside within a state with legal access to recreational marijuana, and 95 percent of Americans live within states that permit some degree of legal access to marijuana, whether it is medical or recreational.

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Despite the immense access Americans have to marijuana, it still remains illegal at the federal level, meaning the federal government can overrule the states by increasing enforcement and prosecutions. With Trump’s recently confirmed Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, who is opposed to marijuana legalization, a crackdown from the Trump administration on legalized marijuana could be likely.

Yet, Polis defends the industry by saying that legalization has created economic benefits in Colorado.

“Colorado has proven that allowing responsible adults to legally purchase marijuana gives money to classrooms, not cartels; creates jobs, not addicts; and boosts our economy, not our prison population,” Polis said in a statement on his website. “This budding industry can’t afford to be stifled by the Trump administration and its mixed messages about marijuana.”

Collegian reporter Piper Davis can be reached at news@collegian.com or on Twitter @Piperldavis.

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