The path of reform at the federal level is the next big hurdle for the American reform movement. Which direction that might go has been a question that has begun to be answered by the direction of certain state movements. The nasty fights earlier in the decade at the state level over many of these questions particularly in states like California, and even more notably Washington State, have now birthed their first federal baby.
A set of bills introduced in Congress last week has one approach that may or may not work. Introduced by Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore) and Rep. Earl Blumenthauer (D-Ore), the legislation would remove marijuana’s Schedule I status and set up federal frameworks for regulating it.
The package introduced in both houses have three parts:
- The Small Business Tax Equity Act. This section would allow small business owners in the cannabusiness to begin to be able to claim tax deductions for the cost of doing business. Four years after the first legal state markets in Washington State and Colorado, businesses often struggle to pay taxes, in every way. The inability to deduct the same is one big reason.
- The Responsibly Addressing the Marijuana Policy Gap Act: This would remove federal penalties for the sale and possession of marijuana in all states where state reform has already occurred. This bill would also give marijuana businesses the right to have a bank account. Two other important elements also allow veterans to access state marijuana programs and would also stop the arrest and prosecution of Native American tribes under federal law for possession, sale or use.
- The Marijuana Revenue and Regulation Act: This bill would remove cannabis from Schedule I designation and impose a federal excise tax.
In theory, this is a very good approach. The Oregonian model, on which this is also clearly based, decided from the beginning to “learn” the lessons of other states. This includes respecting the right (and creating the opportunity) for both medical and recreational outlets to be widely available to patients.
This is also the kind of legislation, for example, if passed, that very well might help spawn larger non-profit providers through networks (including vets networks) in a way impossible before.
Will It Go To The White House?
Good question. The jury is still out. Democratic sponsors say they are confident that they will obtain GOP support. However, the Oregon duo introducing the bills have introduced similar bills before to little support. This time, they hope the tide if not, the conversation has changed. This includes the watershed wins in multiple states last November. It also includes conversations about the impact of Attorney General Jeff Sessions on the industry. Nobody knows if state raids by federal forces are still in the offing. This is particularly true of the recreational side of the equation. California, in particular, is no stranger to federal raids, and on the conservative side of things, there are many even in this “ultra-liberal” state who may help carry the ball this time. That includes Orange County states-rights Republican Dana Rohrabacher. The Congressman has become a staunch advocate of reform, even on the international level.
Wait and See
It is very likely that the bills will proceed in committee. It is early in the two-year session, and bills like this are great for “horse trading” favours for other issues.
It also could be that American politicians will pick up the hint from across the Atlantic. The German lower house of Parliament (the equivalent of the American House of Representatives) voted unanimously to legalize medical use in January.
This bill would go a bit farther than that. This sets the recreational industry loose, essentially, from the current chains that hold it.
However, there is a healthcare element to all of this that could still derail the bill. By definition, if vets are able to obtain it, this means that cannabis is well on its way to being separately covered as a legitimate medical expense. In other words, health insurance.
That debate, in the current political climate in DC, could turn toxic when you least expect it (and over something even small and unexpected). The main difference between Germany and America on this front right now is that the German healthcare system is truly inclusive. The debate in the U.S. right now is how expansive the current programs could be (or not).
And the reality is that medical is still in the driver’s seat. It is far easier for those still undecided about reform to accept medical with a wait and see attitude as a compromise.