Congressional Democrats have failed to get a marijuana decriminalization bill across the finish line this year (2021), despite promises to do so. With the Senate virtually tied, Democrats need the GOP’s help to get something done. They have failed to date because their decriminalization bills have gone too far. However, there may be a fix in the form of a new bill proposed in early November by a group of GOP House members.
The bill has been introduced by South Carolina Republican freshman Rep. Nancy Mace. Known as the States Reform Act, the bill in its current form would de-schedule marijuana in favor of regulating it in a way that is eerily similar to federal alcohol regulation. And if you guessed that there is an excise tax involved, you guessed correctly.
● Highlights of the Bill
Marijuana Moment reports that the bill is more than a hundred pages long. There is a lot in it, but most of it focuses on federal regulating authority for both recreational and medical use. Here are the highlights, as pointed out by Marijuana Moment:
- Marijuana would be removed from the list of Schedule I controlled substances.
- Washington would assess a 3.75% excise tax on all cannabis sales.
- The main regulating agency would be the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB).
- The FDA’s regulatory authority would extend only to medical cannabis.
- The USDA would regulate cultivation, as cannabis would be considered an agricultural commodity.
- Safe harbor provisions would be built into any rules that regulators come up with.
- Current state license holders would be grandfathered into new federal licensing programs.
The bill goes on to do a lot more, but the main point is that its sponsors are committed to treating marijuana just like alcohol for regulatory purposes. Exactly what that would mean for state recreational and medical use programs is unclear.
● State Bans on Recreational Use
Let us assume that the GOP bill is passed and signed into law in its current form. How would it affect more conservative states, like Utah? That remains to be seen. Proposition 2 made medical cannabis legal in Utah a few years ago. The state’s medical program is fully operational now, and tens of thousands of patients have valid medical cannabis cards.
Utah tightly regulates everything from how medical cannabis is grown to where it can be sold. For example, Park City’s Deseret Wellness pharmacy is one of only fourteen pharmacies serving the entire state. Would that number increase if the GOP bill became law?
There is some debate over whether or not states could continue banning recreational use after Washington decriminalizes marijuana. But if we look at Prohibition as an example, there seems to be some evidence suggesting that the Constitution does afford states such authority.
When the 18th amendment was repealed in 1933, a handful of states continued on as dry states. It was not until 1966 that the last dry state, Mississippi, got rid of its own alcohol ban. Even today there are states that exercise the authority to ban alcohol sales by allowing counties the option to remain dry.
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● The Best Compromise Bill
The latest GOP bill may be the best compromise bill possible. The U.S. is not ready to completely throw in the towel on marijuana. By the same token, growing numbers of people use the drug both recreationally and medically. The only path forward might be to de-schedule cannabis and treat it like alcohol. And if that is the case, it means allowing states to continue to exercise their own regulatory authority as well.
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