US states would be free to decide how to regulate marijuana
just like beer and wine without running foul of federal law
under legislation being proposed by two Democratic lawmakers.
Earl Blumenauer of Oregon and Jared Polis of Colorado plan to
introduce two bills in the House of Representatives amid a
growing movement to legalise pot for personal use, whether
recreational or medical.
One bill would end a federal ban on marijuana and give states
jurisdiction over its use and regulate it in a similar way to
alcohol sales, with federal oversight. The other would levy a
federal tax on its sale, the congressmen said in a statement.
The bills will likely face significant difficulties in the
House, where conservative Republicans hold a majority and
control what legislation moves forward. A similar, bipartisan
effort by other representatives failed to gain traction in
Washington state and Colorado voted to legalise marijuana in
2012 but now face questions on how to implement their laws
while national authorities still consider the drug illegal.
Illinois lawmakers also considered legalising pot for medical
use last year, but the effort lacked support.
Eighteen states, including California, Oregon and Washington
DC, allow marijuana sales for medical use to help patients
cope with pain and other chronic conditions, according to the
National Conference of State Legislatures, which tracks state
Last year's votes in Washington state and Colorado have
buoyed those who support easing access to marijuana, the most
commonly used illegal drug in the United States. Polls show a
majority of Americans support legalising pot.
Critics say that despite widespread use and acceptance, the
drug, derived from the cannabis plant and usually smoked,
carries health risks, especially for youth. And they question
whether it has benefits for medical use.
The bill put forward by Polis would require the US attorney
general to "decriminalise" pot within 60 days of the passage
of the legislation. It would require sellers to have permits
and transfer oversight to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco,
Firearms and Explosives, rather than the Drug Enforcement
Blumenauer's bill would impose a federal tax on pot producers
and sellers equal to 50 percent of the product's sale price.
Advocates on both sides of the issue are waiting to see how
federal authorities will respond to the moves in Washington
state and Colorado.
The US Justice Department has yet to clarify its stance, but
President Barack Obama has said it does not make sense for
the federal government to focus on recreational drug users in
such states, given limited government resources and growing
A spokeswoman for the Justice Department said it had yet to
review the proposed bills and was still looking at the
initiatives in Colorado and Washington state.
The Marijuana Policy Project, which has been pushing to relax
the US stance on the drug for years, welcomed the proposals
as a way to move the pot trade toward regulated sellers and
away from drug cartels and criminals.
"Marijuana prohibition has proven to be just as ineffective,
wasteful, and problematic as alcohol prohibition," said Steve
Fox, the group's director of government relations.
US drug officials have classified marijuana as an illegal
drug with no accepted medical use and a high potential for
abuse since 1970.