Courage Grows on Marijuana Legislation with Two Federal Bills

Jared Polis (D-CO) and Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) have done what would have been nearly unthinkable just a decade ago: seriously propose federal marijuana legalization bills in Congress:

Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) introduced the Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act, which would remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act’s schedules, transfer oversight of the substance from the Drug Enforcement Administration over to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and regulate marijuana in a way similar to how alcohol is currently regulated in the U.S.

Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) introduced the Marijuana Tax Revenue Act, which would set up a federal excise tax for regulated marijuana.

The bills would not force states to legalize marijuana, but a federal regulatory framework would be in place for those states that do decide to legalize it. To date, four states and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational marijuana (however, D.C.’s model continues to ban sales), 23 states have legalized marijuana for medical purposes and 11 other states have legalized the limited use of low-THC forms of marijuana for medical use.

These bills have no chance of passing the Republican House, of course. But they nonetheless represent a major step forward for the legalization movement in pushing the Overton Window away from our current failed prohibition policy.

Talk to anyone serious in public policy outside of hyperconservative circles and they’ll tell you off the record that it’s only a matter of time before marijuana is legalized at a federal level. It might take five years or ten or twenty, but the day is eventually coming. States are accomplishing it to positive effect both economically and socially, and most of the public is becoming more comfortable with the idea.

When I argued last year at a local city council meeting in California against the council’s planned dispensary prohibition on the grounds that it was moving the city in the wrong direction, even the Republican councilor conceded that marijuana would likely be legalized at the federal and state level eventually, taking the cowardly approach that banning dispensaries would save city legal headaches until full legalization occurred.

But even now, and even in Democratic-majority cities in blue states, those who support legalization are still seen as “unserious” and threatening to the moral standing of the community. If you advocate for legalization in front of even certain older center-left groups–to say nothing of conservative groups–you still get the snickering side-eye implication that you’re a stoner who just wants to get high. It helps when I make the case that I can honestly say I’ve never touched the stuff, but it’s frankly offensive that anyone should even have to make that disclaimer.

Ultimately, the “unserious” side is going to win this debate, and all the ponderous furrowed brows and clutched pearls will be seen as the 2015 version of alcohol prohibition schoolmarms and anti-miscegenation yahoos.

It would be nice if we could hurry and speed along that process, so that all those “respectable” folks feel for a few good decades the sting of the same public scorn they heaped for years on those of us who were right the whole time.

David Atkins

David Atkins is a writer, activist and research professional living in Santa Barbara. He is a contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal and president of The Pollux Group, a qualitative research firm.