A new Republican-led bill could be the middle of the road solution to legalizing and taxing marijuana

click to enlarge Now Republicans want to legalize weed. - SHUTTERSTOCK.COM
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Now Republicans want to legalize weed.

Just when we thought full-blown marijuana legalization remained a distant reality, a Republican-led congressional marijuana legalization bill comes along that could end the federal prohibition on weed.

Marijuana Moment obtained the 116-page draft legislation, which is being led by Rep. Nancy Mace (R-SC) and aims to give 68% of Americans what they want: legal weed (with, of course, some limitations). The measure, titled the States Reform Act, is still in the preliminary phase but a final version could be filed as soon as the end of November.

Described by Marijuana Moment as "a compromise between simple descheduling as proposed by other GOP lawmakers and wide-ranging comprehensive legislation that Democratic leaders are championing," the measure would federally decriminalize marijuana while also creating a regulatory structure that would not step on the toes of state markets where weed is already legal, including Michigan — meaning new rules would not necessarily apply to those states.

The draft legislation proposes federally descheduling marijuana and treating it like booze, and placing a 3.75% excise tax on weed sales, with revenue going toward community reentry grant programs, law enforcement, and aid for businesses that obtain a weed license under the new bill. Interstate marijuana commerce would be regulated by the Treasury Department's Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, and The Food and Drug Administration would be prevented from banning the use of cannabis in non-drug applications, but could "prescribe serving sizes, certify designated cannabis products, and approve/regulate pharmaceuticals derived from marijuana" when it comes to medical weed. The U.S. Department of Agriculture would regulate raw cannabis as an agricultural commodity.

OK — but what about the people?

Well, the measure would also make it so those people with "certain" non-violent federal cannabis convictions eligible for expungements and a mandatory age limit of 21 would be enforced for recreational cannabis sales. Veterans who consume marijuana would also be exempt from discrimination when it comes to seeking federal work and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs would be allowed to issue recommendations for medical weed. However, veterans aside, federal agencies would still be able to drug test for marijuana under the measure.

It should be noted that much of what is featured in the draft legislation could and likely will change as it approaches finalization. And, of course, there's the hurdle that is President Joe Biden, who has been slow to embrace the legalization movement, yet has been vocal about his belief that marijuana should be decriminalized (meaning people shouldn't be jailed for possession but sales should remain illegal). In 2019, Biden said he still considered marijuana as a gateway drug (it's not). Earlier this year, his administration sacked at least five White House staffers because of their previous marijuana use.

However, Biden supports the states' rights to legalize weed and has given his support for the legalization of medical marijuana. Biden is also down for expunging records for cannabis crimes.

Though the president cannot deschedule cannabis unilaterally via an executive order, the Congressional Research Service says he has the power to "order executive agencies to consider either altering the scheduling of marijuana or changing their enforcement approach." A report published by CRS last week outlined several ways that Biden could bypass lawmakers to take steps toward legalizing marijuana and, through his pardon powers, could grant mass clemency to those facing federal marijuana offenses.

"This new report affirms what advocates have long called for when it comes to taking decisive, consequential actions to end the senseless and cruel policy of marijuana criminalization," NORML Political Director Justin Strekal told Marijuana Moment. "Should the Biden administration wish to be in line with the political, economic and moral realities surrounding cannabis policy, it should take action with haste."

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