Passing pot in Congress


Rep. Earl Blumenauer of Oregon and Rep. Jared Polis of Colorado introduced a bill to Congress on Feb. 5 that, if passed, would allow states to legalize marijuana while adding a federal tax on its sales.

Under the Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2013, the newly renamed Alcohol, Tobacco, Marijuana, Firearms and Explosives Bureau would regulate marijuana. Marijuana would be taken off the list of dangerous drugs, and merchants would be required to obtain a permit similar to a liquor license.

However, the bill also prohibits the shipment of marijuana into states or territories where it is deemed illegal and allows a federal agency to continue its current policy on drugs if it chooses.

Blumenauer and Polis were unavailable for comment at the time of this writing. Colorado and Washington already legalized the substance in a referendum on the presidential ballot, but the Department of Justice issued a press release in December, warning that marijuana is still illegal under the Controlled Substances Act.

“Neither States nor the Executive branch can nullify a statute passed by Congress,” according to the press release. “Selling or possessing any amount of marijuana remains illegal under federal law.”

Paul Sracic, chair of the political science department at Youngstown State University, said the proposed law stands little chance of being debated on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives.

“The votes just aren’t there yet,” he said.

Sracic said that unlike the U.S. Senate, which allows the minority party some influence, the House of Representatives is “ruled by the majority” and that most Republicans are socially conservative and won’t vote to pass the bill.

“The first step is to see how the DOJ deals with the issue,” he said.

But even state and federal Democrats aren’t ready to throw their full support behind the legalization of marijuana.

Meghan Dubyak, communications director for Sen. Sherrod Brown, said in an email that Brown hasn’t yet decided how to vote.

“Senator Brown would weigh the potential medical benefits of marijuana — particularly for terminally ill patients whose quality of life may hinge on effective pain management — as well as the risks associated with legalizing the drug,” she said.

Even if the measure passes in both the House of Representatives and the Senate, some Democratic Ohio state legislators are still lukewarm on the topic.

“I would support for medical reasons but not sure if I would go any further,” said Rep. Ron Gerberry. “[I am] not ready to support further expansion for marijuana at this point.”

Sen. Joe Schiavoni said Ohio’s Congress would face an opposition similar to the federal legislature.

“In my opinion, even if the bill was to pass in Congress, it would still be illegal in Ohio — at least according to the people I sit with in Columbus, because it is such a Republican-dominant house,” he said.