Marching Toward Critical Mass
Are Americans ready to legalize marijuana?
Published: April 17, 2013
Slow and Steady,
State by State
Last November, voters in Washington state and Colorado approved ballot measures allowing for the personal use of small amounts of weed for recreational use. This brave new frontier, which comes on the heels of legalization’s previous iteration, medical use, now counts 18 states, plus Washington, D.C., as those that have some type of law on the books permitting the cultivation, possession and use of marijuana.
This past February, a coalition of congressional lawmakers, led by Reps. Jared Polis (D-CO) and Earl Blumenaur (D-OR), introduced a bill titled the “Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act,” which seeks to remove the Drug Enforcement Administration’s authority over marijuana and allow each state to choose whether cannabis should be legal. Blumenauer’s “Marijuana Tax Equity Act” would create a federal excise tax on the drug. Combined, the two bills would create a regulation and taxation system for marijuana in states where it’s legal.
Polis told his hometown newspaper, the Boulder, Colo., Daily Camera, his proposed legislation doesn’t force any state to legalize marijuana. But, he said, Colorado and the 18 other jurisdictions that have chosen to allow marijuana for medical or recreational use deserve the certainty of knowing federal agents won’t raid their state-legal businesses.
“Congress should simply allow states to regulate marijuana as they see fit and stop wasting federal tax dollars on a failed drug war,” he was quoted as saying.
Polis also said he expects his measure could draw bipartisan support from fellow Democrats and from Republicans, especially those with Libertarian leanings.
A POTENTIAL ISSUE waiting for supporters of legalization is the discrepancy between legalization and decriminalization. While the practical effects are likely negligible, the difference could easily be used as a cudgel by proponents to derail momentum on the issue and set back a cause ripe for blossoming. (This is, after all, a story about weed — flowery metaphors are a must-have.)
Whether Americans want to see cannabis regulated like alcohol and tobacco versus whether they just want to let potheads be left alone will make the difference in how the issue is ultimately legislated.
“Most Americans would not be familiar with the difference between legalization and decriminalization,” said Strate, the professor at Wayne State. “Legalization makes it OK to do something; decriminalization removes criminal penalties and replaces them with civil penalties.”
Given the economic impact that regulating cannabis likely offers to federal coffers, it seems likely that once politicians get over their fear of retribution from those pockets of holdout constituents, weed will be taxed, retaxed and then taxed some more. Then another fight begins … overregulation. Not to put the cart before the horse, but it now sounds like a Republican dream.
Bryan Gottlieb is editor of the Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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