The federal stance on marijuana is a mixed bag. On the one hand, the Trump administration has threatened to crack down on states that legalized weed. On the other, a list of bills are pending in Congress to loosen the grasp of federal prohibition and alleviate a number of obstacles standing in the way of a fully functional cannabis industry.
The “Path to Marijuana Reform” is a collection of three bills, presented by Representative Earl Blumenauer (D-Oregon) and Senator Ron Wyden (D-Oregon), that would improve banking and taxation issues, protect state marijuana laws, address asset forfeiture, and even decriminalize cannabis.
“The federal government must respect the decision Oregonians made at the polls and allow law-abiding marijuana businesses to go to the bank just like any other legal business,” Wyden said. “This three-step approach will spur job growth and boost our economy all while ensuring the industry is being held to a fair standard.”
The package includes three bills called the “Responsibly Addressing the Marijuana Policy Gap Act,” the “Small Business Tax Equity Act,” and the “Marijuana Revenue and Regulation Act.”
The Policy Gap Act would protect state compliant cannabis businesses and individuals from federal penalties and civil asset forfeiture. It would also allow those convicted of certain marijuana violations to expunge their records, and would remove the requirement for green state residents to take marijuana drug tests if they want to work in federal civil service. Moreover, the bill would lift restrictions that cripple current medical research, and would give cannabis businesses access to banking, bankruptcy protection, research, and advertising. Currently, cannabis is an all-cash industry because banks are federally regulated; hence nearly 70 percent of cannabis business operate only in cash.
The Small Business Tax Equity Act would alleviate the taxation issues that plague the cannabis industry. As it stands now, Tax Code 280E bars cannabis businesses from claiming credits or deductions for business expenses; they can only deduct for things that go into the “cost of goods sold,” but not for things like rent or payroll. This bill would create an exception to 280E for cannabis businesses that are compliant with state law.
The Revenue and Regulation Act would decriminalize cannabis by removing it from the Controlled Substances Act, which classifies it under Schedule I along with drugs like heroin. It would also impose an excise tax on cannabis products, would allow cannabis businesses to get permits, and would regulate cannabis like alcohol. Hence a portion of the Act, sponsored in the House by Jared Polis (D-Colorado), is also called the Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act.
This package of bills is the latest attempt at marijuana law reform by the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, which was formed earlier this year by Representative Dana Rohrabacher (R-California) and Representative Don Young (R-Alaska), along with Blumenauer and Polis. The idea behind the caucus is to propose and support marijuana law reform in Congress — especially in the face of interference from the Trump administration. Representative Blumenauer says he’s optimistic these bills can be successful, “maybe even this year.”