Sen­ate bill would get feds off states’ backs over mar­i­juana

Pro­posal would end fed­eral pot penal­ties, in­crease bank­ing ac­cess.

Dayton Daily News - - BUSINESS -

Ore­gon Sen. Ron Wy­den pro­posed leg­is­la­tion Fri­day that would give states a free hand to al­low le­gal cannabis mar­kets with­out the threat of fed­eral crim­i­nal in­ter­ven­tion, the lat­est push in Congress to bol­ster the na­tion’s bur­geon­ing pot in­dus­try.

The pro­posal, iden­ti­cal to a bill in the House, aims to ease the long­stand­ing con­flict be­tween states where cannabis is le­gal in some form and the U.S. govern­ment, which cat­e­go­rizes mar­i­juana as a dan­ger­ous il­le­gal drug, sim­i­lar to LSD or heroin.

“The fed­eral pro­hi­bi­tion of mar­i­juana is wrong, plain and sim­ple,” Wy­den, a Demo­crat, said in a state­ment. “Too many lives have been wasted, and too many eco­nomic op­por­tu­ni­ties have been missed.”

It re­mains un­clear if Wy­den’s bill would have a chance of clear­ing the Repub­li­can-con­trolled Sen­ate.

The Demo­cratic ma­jor­ity in the House ap­pears more open to con­sid­er­ing pro­pos­als to ease fed­eral re­stric­tions on mar­i­juana. The cham­ber has set a hear­ing next week on a bill in­tended to make bank­ing ser­vices more widely avail­able for pot com­pa­nies.

A pro­posal sim­i­lar to Wy­den’s pre­vi­ously lan­guished in the Sen­ate and House.

How­ever, Rep. Earl Blu­me­nauer, an Ore­gon Demo­crat car­ry­ing the cur­rent bill in the House, said vot­ers have “elected the most pro-cannabis Congress in Amer­i­can his­tory.”

“It’s tough to see how things will shake out, but there is a very se­ri­ous chance cannabis pol­icy re­form will move in the Sen­ate,” said Mor­gan Fox of the Na­tional Cannabis In­dus­try As­so­ci­a­tion.

Most Amer­i­cans live in states where pot can be legally pur­chased for med­i­cal or recre­ational use, and the move to loosen fed­eral re­stric­tions on mar­i­juana came as the is­sue has played into the emerg­ing 2020 pres­i­den­tial cam­paign.

The pro­posal would take mar­i­juana off the fed­eral con­trolled sub­stances list and re­move fed­eral crim­i­nal penal­ties for in­di­vid­u­als and busi­nesses act­ing in com­pli­ance with state mar­i­juana laws. It would also re­duce bar­ri­ers for le­gal mar­i­juana busi­nesses to get ac­cess to bank­ing.

The bill is part of a three-bill pack­age: A sec­ond would im­pose a tax on mar­i­juana prod­ucts sim­i­lar to fed­eral ex­cise taxes on al­co­hol, while a third would al­low state-le­gal mar­i­juana busi­nesses to claim tax de­duc­tions and cred­its.

Justin Strekal, po­lit­i­cal di­rec­tor of the pro-le­gal­iza­tion group NORML, said in a state­ment that the pro­posal is an­other sign of the “grow­ing pub­lic sup­port for end­ing our failed war on cannabis con­sumers.”

For­mer House Speaker John Boehner, who sits on the board of cannabis com­pany Acreage Hold­ings, on Fri­day an­nounced the for­ma­tion of an in­dus­try-backed lob­by­ing group that would push for na­tional mar­i­juana re­forms.

J. SCOTT AP­PLE­WHITE / AP 2018

Ron Wy­den (with fel­low Ore­gon Demo­cratic U.S. Sen. Patty Mur­ray) has pro­posed leg­is­la­tion that would al­low states to es­tab­lish le­gal mar­i­juana mar­kets with­out the fear of fed­eral crim­i­nal in­ter­ven­tion. “The fed­eral pro­hi­bi­tion of mar­i­juana is wrong, plain and sim­ple,” he said Fri­day.

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