Last week in the United States Senate, the country’s most august lawmaking body, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) introduced twelve bills.
Bills in the Senate are given a number, and numbers are issued sequentially as the bills are introduced, so it was clearly one-hundred percent coincidental happenstance that Wyden’s bill that would legalize marijuana at the federal level, the Marijuana Revenue and Regulation Act, received the very appropriate number S. 420.
Or maybe it was just a smart plan, well-executed. S. 420, which would legalize, regulate, and tax cannabis in the United States in a manner similar to how the plant is cultivated and sold in California, Oregon, Colorado, and elsewhere, was one of three marijuana-reform related bills Wyden introduced last week.
Along with S. 421, the “Responsibly Addressing the Marijuana Policy Gap Act,” and S. 422, the “Small Business Tax Equity Act,” the three bills make up what’s been called the “Path to Marijuana Reform.”
Wyden has represented Oregon in Congress since 1981, and Oregon, which legalized recreational marijuana in 2014, is one of about six states in the running for America’s cannabis-friendliest place. Wyden’s Portland, Oregon-based colleague in the House of Representatives, Rep. Earl Blumenauer, has also introduced similar bills in the House — but H.R. 420, the Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act, is old news: Blumenauer introduced his bill way back in January.
Stoner-friendly titles and quibbles over who was first aside, the bills represent the latest and most serious effort to enact meaningful policy reform at the federal level — which is what every cannabis business in America needs. Cannabis merchants are still almost entirely blocked from banking in the way normal businesses do and are also restricted on what business expenses they can claim on their taxes. In an era when Canadian marijuana companies are shipping flower and oil across the world, American marijuana firms can’t cross state lines.
“The federal prohibition of marijuana is wrong, plain and simple. Too many lives have been wasted, and too many economic opportunities have been missed,” said Wyden, according to a news release. “It’s time Congress make the changes Oregonians and Americans across the country are demanding.”
Wyden introduced the bill on Feb. 7. As of Tuesday evening, none of Wyden’s colleagues have signed on as co-sponsors, according to Congress.gov — not even Kamala Harris, who, as we discovered on Monday, may (or may not) have listened to Tupac and Snoop Dogg while maybe (or maybe not! Who can say?) smoking marijuana, at some point in or after college.
What next? As you probably do not remember from “Schoolhouse Rocks,” a bill like Wyden’s can only become a law in a land like ours if it clears a committee hearing. The only way a bill can escape a committee is if it has a hearing and the only way a bill can get a hearing is if the committee chairperson decides to schedule one.
S.420 went to the Senate Committee on Finance, whose chairperson is — oh wow, Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, the guy who tweets about his Frankenstein lawnmower and who has opposed marijuana legalization throughout his lengthy Senate career!
This is to say it’s a good thing that Blumenauer’s bills are in Congress, where Nancy Pelosi is Speaker and where the key committee chairs are Democrats. This is not to say that drug policy reform is a partisan issue — it is quite the opposite — but Congress is a partisan place, and it is easy to see bills that are nonetheless good ideas hung up or killed for petty reasons like party of origin.
Just the same, if any Congress will take up cannabis policy reform seriously, it’s this Congress, the most marijuana-friendly Congress in American history.
TELL US, do you think cannabis will be legal on a federal level?