Whether they decide to prohibit it or legalize it, marijuana regulation should be left up to state, not federal, governments, say a group of congressmen.
Reps. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) and Ron Paul (R-Texas) introduced HR 2306, or the “Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2011,” Tuesday to end the federal prohibition of marijuana and allow state and local laws to govern its use and regulation.
“We do not believe the federal government should be involved in prosecuting adults for smoking marijuana,” Frank said. “I do not think prohibition is ever the effective way to deal with those things.”
The bill’s passage would delight legalization activists nationwide, but it would also address a mounting conflict between states that have legalized marijuana in some form and the federal Controlled Substances Act, which still prohibits its possession.
Several state officials have expressed hesitancy to enact legalization legislation before the federal government clarifies its position on enforcement. For example, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has held up his state’s medical marijuana program and asked Attorney General Eric Holder in a letter for guidance.
Holder has said he will clarify DOJ’s stance but has not yet.
Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne even filed suit against the Justice Department seeking a court judgment on whether state officials could implement the new Arizona Medical Marijuana Act, which state voters passed in November.
“If this bill passes on the federal level, then all those threatening letters and all that huffing and puffing from U.S. Attorneys will disappear,” said Rob Kampia, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project.
The bill would remove marijuana from the federal schedule of controlled substances entirely and remove marijuana-specific penalties in the CSA. It would also allow individuals – if state law permits – to grow and sell marijuana in states that choose to make it legal.
To date, 14 states have decriminalized the possession of marijuana and 16 states and the District of Columbia have made provisions for medical marijuana.
Frank said he doesn’t expect the measure to pass this session but decided to introduced it as a step to further popularize the issue.
“I don’t expect it to pass this Congress, but I do think we’re making progress,” Frank said. “This is an educational process that is going on.”
He said another bill aimed more specifically at protecting medical-marijuana states from federal law will also be introduced this session.
Ending the federal ban would also empower states to regulate and tax marijuana, which could make the bill popular with states’-rights oriented Republicans, said Aaron Houston, executive director of Students for Sensible Drug Policy.
Allen St. Pierre, executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, or NORML, compared the bill to the repeal of prohibition, when some states chose to make alcohol legal while others preserved the ban for decades.
“Some states who are keen on it will move on it, some states will not,” Pierre said.