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Grassley Immigration Bill Amendment Affects Real and Imagined Drug Offenders

US Capitol, Senate side
An amendment to the Senate immigration reform bill by Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA) would affect real and imagined drug offenders. SA 1570, amendment to S. 744 (and the same as Grassley's SA 1299 calls for deportation of immigrant gang members and barring them from become legalized immigrants. Among the types of crimes included are felony drug offenses. But according to the Immigrant Legal Resource Center (ILRC), the amendment doesn't require proof, it creates guilt by association, and there's no process for challenging evidence used under the amendment in a proceeding.

The ILRC alert includes some examples of people caught up in the Kafkaesque situation these kinds of laws have created:

Ronny (not his real name), a 35-year old green card holder, was brought to the United States at the age of 2. Ruben's parents are US citizens and he is engaged to a US citizen. In 2003, Ronny was arrested for marijuana sale in Illinois. He pled guilty to this sentence and received a sentence to 18 days in jail and 2 years of probation, which he successfully completed. This was Ronny's last criminal offense. In July of 2012, immigration officers, in a joint operation with local authorities in DuPage County, Illinois, arrived at Ronny's home to arrest him and put him in deportation proceedings. Ronny discovered he was on a gang list, compiled by DuPage law enforcement. Ronny has never been in a gang, nor engaged in any gang-related activities, though he did grow up in a neighborhood where gang activity was prevalent and had friends who were associated with gangs. Ronny could be considered a gang member and a danger to society.
 

Julia (not her real name) lives in California. She has applied for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. Although Julia has never been involved with a gang, she has friends who were gang members and was arrested twice as a juvenile for offenses that were dismissed by the Prosecutor. It is likely that Julia would be considered to be an active gang member and a danger to the community.

Call (888) 891-3271 for the Congressional Switchboard and ask to speak to each of your two Senators in turn. Also, tweet your Senator with #NOonGrassley1570. Visit http://www.govsm.com/w/Senate to find Twitter information for US Senators.

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Good, Bad Drug Measures Die Along with Farm Bill

The Farm Bill (House Bill 1947) died in the House Thursday morning as Democrats rebelled against deep cuts to food stamps. The vote to kill it came after the House had approved separate amendments that would have allowed for limited hemp production, but also would have allowed states to require drug tests for food stamp applicants.

Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) saw his hemp amendment pass the House, only to die along with the farm bill. (wikimedia.org)
In an historic first, the House passed an amendment offered by Reps. Jared Polis (D-CO), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), and Thomas Massie (R-KY) that would allow hemp to be grown for research purposes. The amendment passed 225-200, despite a last-minute lobbying blitz against it from the DEA, complete with a DEA talking points memo obtained by the Huffington Post.

Still, despite the DEA's concerns that allowing limited hemp production for research would make law enforcement's job more difficult, a majority of lawmakers weren't buying, and amendment sponsors and hemp advocates pronounced themselves well-pleased.

"Industrial hemp is an important agricultural commodity, not a drug," said Rep. Polis. "My bipartisan, common-sense amendment would allow colleges and universities to grow and cultivate industrial hemp for academic and agricultural research purposes in states where industrial hemp growth and cultivation is already legal. Many states, including Colorado, have demonstrated that they are fully capable of regulating industrial hemp. The federal government should clarify that states should have the ability to regulate academic and agriculture research of industrial hemp without fear of federal interference. Hemp is not marijuana, and at the very least, we should allow our universities -- the greatest in the world -- to research the potential benefits and downsides of this important agricultural commodity."

"Industrial hemp is used for hundreds of products including paper, clothing, rope, and can be converted into renewable bio-fuels more efficiently than corn or switch grass," said Rep. Massie. "It's our goal that the research this amendment enables would further broadcast the economic benefits of the sustainable and job-creating crop." 

"Because of outdated federal drug laws, our farmers can't grow industrial hemp and take advantage of a more than $300 million dollar market. We rely solely on imports to sustain consumer demand. It makes no sense," said Blumenauer. "Our fear of industrial hemp is misplaced -- it is not a drug. By allowing colleges and universities to cultivate hemp for research, Congress sends a signal that we are ready to examine hemp in a different and more appropriate context."

Nineteen states have passed pro-industrial hemp legislation. The following nine states have removed barriers to its production: Colorado, Kentucky, Maine, Montana, North Dakota, Oregon, Vermont, Washington and West Virginia.

 "Vote Hemp applauds this new bipartisan amendment and we are mobilizing all the support we can. This brilliant initiative would allow colleges and universities the opportunity to grow and cultivate hemp for academic and agricultural research purposes," said Eric Steenstra, president of Vote Hemp. "It would only apply to states where industrial hemp growth and cultivation is already legal in order for those states to showcase just how much industrial hemp could benefit the environment and economy in those regions," continues Steenstra.

"Federal law has denied American farmers the opportunity to cultivate industrial hemp and reap the economic rewards from this versatile crop for far too long," said Grant Smith, policy manager with the Drug Policy Alliance. "Congress should lift the prohibition on the domestic cultivation of industrial hemp as soon as possible. Allowing academic research is an important first step towards returning industrial hemp cultivation to American farms."

Drug reformers' and hemp advocates' elation over passage of the hemp amendment was short-lived however, as the Farm Bill went down to defeat for reasons not having anything to do with hemp. But the upside to the bill's defeat was that it also killed a successful Republican-backed amendment that would have allowed states to drug test people applying for food stamps, now known officially as the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP).

"If adopted, this amendment would join a list of good-government reforms contained in the farm bill to save taxpayer money and ensure integrity and accountability within our nutrition system," said its sponsor, Rep. Richard Hudson (R-NC), who added that it would ensure that food stamps go only to needy families and children.

But House Democrats were infuriated by the amendment. Rep. Gwen Moore (D-WI), said there was no evidence people on food stamps were any more likely to use drugs than anyone else and that the measure was meant only to embarrass and humiliate people on food stamps.

 "It costs a lot of public money just to humiliate people," she said. "It'll cost $75 for one of these drug tests, and for what purpose? Just to criminalize and humiliate poor people."

"This is about demeaning poor people," added Rep. James McGovern (D-MA). "And we've been doing this time and time again on this House floor."

The food stamp drug testing amendment was just part of an overall House Republican assault on the food stamp program that would have cut it by more than $20 billion. It was that attack on food stamps that led Democrats to walk away from the bill. [Ed: Perhaps not just over the cuts -- a National Journal article reports the drug testing amendment cost it votes too.]

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Action Alerts: Farm Bill Hemp and Drug Testing, Mayors Marijuana Resolution

We sent out two action alerts on our email list yesterday. If you've not a subscriber, you can sign up here. (The page says "user account," for participating non-anonymously on our comment boards, but it also gets you subscribed to our list. Subscribing gets you action alerts as well as the email editions of the Chronicle.

As of the time of this writing, both alerts seem to still be current.

[Update: The Hudson SNAP drug testing amendment has passed the House, and the Farm Bill of which it's a part is expected to pass. Efforts to block it now move to the conference committee.]

[And another update: The hemp amendment PASSED! The full House of Representatives!]

I'm pasting them both below. One is about two amendments (one good, one bad) to the federal "Farm Bill" that are likely to be voted on by the House of Representatives sometime today. We have a Chronicle story online here. The other is an alert we sent out for the group Marijuana Majority that asks mayors to support a resolution at the US Conference of Mayors meeting calling on Congress and the administration to respect state marijuana law reforms. The mayors meeting is happening this week, so the resolution will also get voted on anytime. Both alerts target your own elected officials, e.g. the congressmen and mayors for whom you may have voted (US only). Here they are (farm bill first, mayors below):

 


 

 

Dear reformer,

I'm sorry for the double email today, but a lot is happening. We've just gotten word that there are two amendments coming to the floor of the US House of Representatives, possibly as soon as tonight and almost certainly this week. We really want one of the amendments to pass; we really don't want the other to pass. So we're asking you to CALL YOUR U.S. REPRESENTATIVE'S OFFICE ON THE PHONE AS SOON AS YOU GET THIS MESSAGE. Info for doing so is below.

Both amendments are being offered to the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act of 2013 (H.R. 1947). The good one, Amdt. #37 by Reps. Polis (D-CO), Blumenauer (D-OR) and Massie (R-KY), would allow industrial hemp growing for research or other academic purposes in states that allow it. One state that passed a hemp bill recently is California.

The bad one is Amdt. #22 by Reps. Hudson (R-NC), LaMalfa (R-CA) and Yoho (R-FL), which would allow states to require drug testing of all new applicants to the federal SNAP food assistance program. States that have tried this (before it being struck down on constitutional grounds) have found it cost far more than it saved, partly because welfare recipients don't use drugs at higher rates than the general population, as surveys have found. And of course when a low-income parent loses access to food stamps, the entire family is harmed.

Please call your US Representative's office as soon as you get this message, asking for a "Yes" vote on Amdt. #37 (hemp) and a "No" vote on Amdt. #22 (drug testing of food assistance applicants), both to the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act. You can reach your Rep (or find out who your Rep is) through the Congressional Switchboard at (202) 224-3121. Or, you can look up information about your Rep, including the direct phone number for the office, in our online legislative center.

 


 

 

Dear StoptheDrugWar.org supporter:

Later this week, the US Conference of Mayors will vote on a historic resolution calling on Congress and the President to respect state marijuana laws. StoptheDrugWar.org is working with the group Marijuana Majority and others to encourage mayors to support the resolution.

Please visit http://marijuanamajority.com/mayors/?source=drcnet to send an email to the mayor or your town or city supporting this important resolution. When you're done, click on the "call your mayor" link to call your mayor's office on the phone and for talking points to use when you do, and use the share links to let others know about it too. The text of the resolution, and list of mayors already supporting it, are online here.

Hatch Adds Marijuana Grow Amendment to Immigration Bill

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) has introduced an amendment to the pending federal immigration bill that would create harsher penalties for anyone growing marijuana on public federal lands.

Orrin Hatch, old-time drug warrior
The amendment has already won the approval of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Hatch announced in Tuesday statement. The committee is expected to vote on the overall bill later this week.

Under Hatch's amendment, people caught growing marijuana on federal lands would face aggravated penalties. They would also have to serve their sentences consecutive to, not concurrent with, any other sentences.

"In my home state of Utah, the Drug Enforcement Administration and local law enforcement have seized more than 110,000 marijuana plants this past year," Hatch said. "These sites are typically far from the eyes of law enforcement, where growers can take the time needed to grow potent marijuana."

The amendment is only one of several Hatch has introduced to the immigration bill. He and fellow Republican colleagues have introduced numerous amendments aimed at bolstering border security and making it a higher priority than liberalization of immigration policy.

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Hemp Legalization Amendment Introduced for Farm Bill

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) Monday introduced an amendment to the omnibus farm bill to allow farmers to grow industrial hemp, the Huffington Post reported. The move picked up momentum the next day, when Sen. Pat Leahy (D-VT) said he would support, the Huffington Post reported separately.

hemp field at sunrise (votehemp.com)
Vote Hemp, a hemp industry group, has been urging supporters to lobby senators to add and support the amendment. There is an opening on the farm bill this year because it failed to pass last year.

"For me, what's important is that people see, particularly in our state, there's someone buying it at Costco in Oregon," Wyden told the Post. "I adopted what I think is a modest position, which is if you can buy it at a store in Oregon, our farmers ought to be able to make some money growing it."

Wyden wasn't alone. The bipartisan amendment is cosponsored by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Rand Paul (R-KY).

On Tuesday, Sen. Leahy told members of the farm advocacy group Rural Vermont he would support the amendment, and a Leahy aide confirmed his support to the Post.

"We are optimistic that the hemp amendment to the farm bill will pass and be attached," Tom Murphy, the national outreach coordinator for Vote Hemp, told the Post. "We just received word from Rural Vermont that Sen. Patrick Leahy will support the amendment."

This week's moves come after McConnell tried and failed last week to get the amendment added to the farm bill. Now, momentum appears to be mounting.

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The IRS War on Medical Marijuana Providers [FEATURE]

special to Drug War Chronicle by investigative reporter Clarence Walker, cwalkerinvestigate@gmail.com

Dispensaries providing marijuana to doctor-approved patients operate in a number of states, but they are under assault by the federal government. SWAT-style raids by the DEA and finger-wagging press conferences by grim-faced federal prosecutors may garner greater attention, but the assault on medical marijuana providers extends to other branches of the government as well, and moves by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to eliminate dispensaries' ability to take standard business deduction are another very painful arrow in the federal quiver.

The IRS employs Section 280E, a 1982 addition to the tax code that was a response to a drug dealer's successful effort to claim his yacht, weapons purchases, and even illicit bribes as business expenses. Under 280E, individuals involved in the illicit sale of controlled substances -- including marijuana, even medical marijuana in states where it is legal -- cannot claim standard business expenses on their federal taxes.

"The 280E provision which requires certain businesses to pay taxes on their gross income, as opposed to their net income, is aimed at shutting down illicit drug operations, not state-legal medical marijuana dispensaries," said Kris Hermes, spokesman for the medical marijuana defense group Americans for Safe Access." Nonetheless, the Obama Administration is using Section 280E to push these local and state licensed facilities out of business."

The provision can be used to great effect. Oakland's Harborside Health Center was hit with a $2 million IRS assessment in 2011 after the tax agency employed Section 280E against. Harborside is fighting that assessment, even as it continues to try to fend off federal prosecutors' attempts to shut it down by seizing the properties it leases. Similarly, when the feds raided Richard Lee's Oaksterdam University that same year, it wasn't just DEA, but also IRS agents who stormed the premises. Lee said it was because of a 280E-related audit.

The attacks on Harborside and Oaksterdam were part of an IRS campaign of aggressive audits using 280E to deny legitimate business expenses, such as rent, payroll, and all other necessary business expenses. These denials result in astronomical back tax bills for the affected dispensaries, threatening their viability -- and patients' access to their medicine.

"Should the IRS campaign be successful; it will throw millions of patients back in to the hands of street dealers; eliminate tens of thousands of well paying jobs, destroy hundreds of millions of dollars of tax revenue; enrich the criminal underground; and endanger the safety of communities in the 17 medical cannabis states," said Harborside's Steve DeAngelo as he announced the 280E Reform Project to begin to fight back.

It's going to be an uphill battle. In the last Congress, Rep. Pete Stark (D-CA) introduced House Bill 1985, the Small Business Tax Equity Act, designed to end the 280E problem for medical marijuana businesses, but it went to the Republican-controlled House Ways and Means Committee, where it was never heard from again.

Still, something needs to happen, said Betty Aldworth, deputy director of the National Cannabis Industry Association, which this year is working with members of Congress to try to find a fix for the 280E problem.

"When Section 280E was created in the 1980s, no one imagined state-legal marijuana providers," Aldworth told the Chronicle. "Whether or not it is part of a larger effort to curtail the development of regulated models for providing marijuana, which is a model that is clearly preferable to leaving this popular and relatively safe medicine (or adult product) in the underground market, these onerous tax rates have severely hampered the development of the regulated market."

It's a brake on the overall economy, Aldworth said.

"Not only has it resulted in stymieing job development, but it also curtails other economic activity such as reinvestment in business and the rippling positive effects of that spending," she argued. "And in many cases, it has created a tax burden that is simply unbearable: many providers have had to close their doors and lay off their staffs because the tax burden was simply too great."

Because of this unintended application of 280E, medical marijuana providers are paying overall taxes at a rate two to three times those of other small businesses, Aldworth said.

"It's important to note that just as they want to apply for licenses, follow regulations, and otherwise participate in the legal business community, state-legal marijuana providers also want to pay their fair share of taxes," she pointed out. "Most small businesses pay an effective tax rate of between 13% and 27% on net income, according to the Small Business Administration. State-legal marijuana providers pay an average effective tax rate of 65-80%. An industry that can provide thousands of jobs is being held back by these crazy tax rates."

While the lobbyists look to Congress for a fix, one academic tax law expert thinks he has hit upon a novel solution, but not everyone agrees.

Benjamin Leff, a professor at American University's Washington College of Law, raised eyebrows at a Harvard University seminar this spring when he presented his report,Tax Planning For Marijuana Dealers, where he suggested that dispensaries get around 280E by registering with the IRS as tax-exempt social welfare organizations, known as 501(c)(3)s or 501(c)(4)s.

The IRS has already ruled that medical marijuana providers can be exempt under 501(c)(3) because its "public policy doctrine" does not allow charitable organizations to have purposes contrary to law, but in the paper, Leff argued that "a state-sanctioned marijuana seller could qualify as tax-exempt under 501(c)(4), since the public policy doctrine only applies to charities, and 501(c)(4) organizations are not charities."

The organization would have to be operated to improve the social and economic conditions of a neighborhood blighted by crime or poverty, by providing job training, employment opportunities, and improved business conditions for commercial development in the neighborhood, just like many existing community economic development corporations that run businesses.

"When taxes get too high, you can drive compliant dispensaries out of business," Leff told the Chronicle.

Americans for Safe Access' Hermes would agree with that, but he's not so sure about Leff's idea.

"The concept of medical marijuana dispensaries registering with the federal government as a 501(c)(4) in order to sidestep section 280E is novel and may be hypothetically valid," he said. "However, the IRS will refuse to grant tax-exempt status to a business that the agency believes is violating federal law. Perhaps, it would be possible for a dispensary to obtain 501(c)(4) status under false pretenses, but such status would not very likely withstand an IRS audit."

There are better ways, he said.

"A much more realistic and sensible approach -- pending a change to the federal classification of marijuana for medical use -- is to amend the tax code to exclude state-lawful medical marijuana businesses from Section 280E," Hermes recommended. "This is the kind of legislation that Congress should pass in order to allow states to implement their own medical marijuana laws, without undue interference by the federal government."

"I agree with everything he said," Leff replied. "But it's not just the Obama administration that is using 280E this way. The Supreme Court has held that there is no exception to the Controlled Substances Act for state-level legal marijuana sales, and since 280E makes references to Schedule I controlled substances, it applies to legal marijuana unless Congress changes the law. I totally agree that Congress should amend 280E to exempt marijuana selling that is legal under state law. Congress could also amend the Controlled Substances Act to remove marijuana from it, which would probably also make sense," he added.

Whether it is by act of Congress, internal policy shifts, or creative thinking by law school professors, some way has to be found to exempt state-permitted medical marijuana providers from the clutches of 280E and its punitive tax burden aimed at dope dealers, or there may not be any medical marijuana providers.

Congress Forms "Over-Criminalization" Task Force

Ten members of the House Judiciary Committee have agreed to form an Over-Criminalization Task Force to review the expansion of the federal criminal code and make recommendations for paring it down. There are roughly 4,500 federal crimes on the law books, with new ones being added at a rate of about 50 a year.

Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA) is one of 10 task force members.
This proposed review of federal criminal laws is the first since the 1980s, when the number of federal crimes on the books was about half what it is now. The task force will conduct hearings and investigate issues around over-criminalization and will have the opportunity to issue reports to the Justice Committee on its findings and policy recommendations.

Task force members include Reps. Spencer Bachus (R-AL), Karen Bass (D-CA), Steve Cohen (D-TN), Louie Gohmert (R-TX), George Holding (R-NC), Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), Raul Labrador (R-ID), Jerold Nadler (D-NY), Bobby Scott (D-VA), and James Sensenbrenner (R-WI). The group contains both prominent drug law reformers, such as Cohen and Scott, and prominent drug warriors, such as Gohmert and Sensenbrenner.

Among possible topics for the task force are federal drug laws and sentences in general and federal marijuana prohibition in particular. The group could also explore the issue of mens rea, or criminal intent, particularly in relation to the expansion of the use of conspiracy laws since the late 1980s. The use of those laws has led to low-level offenders, including some who were not even part of a drug trafficking enterprise, being sentenced to years or decades in federal prison -- sentences that were supposed to be reserved for high-level offenders.

"As former chairman and long-serving member of the Judiciary Committee, I've seen first-hand just how muddled the criminal code is," said Sensenbrenner. "It's time to scrub it clean. The Over-Criminalization Task Force will review federal laws in Title 18, and laws outside of Title 18 that have not gone through the Judiciary Committee, to modernize our criminal code. In addition, I reintroduced the Criminal Code Modernization and Simplification Act [not posted as of Tuesday] today, which would reform Title 18 of the US Code, reduce the existing criminal code by more than one-third, and update the code to make it more comprehensible."

"Unduly expansive criminal provisions in our law unnecessarily drive up incarceration rates," said Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), the committee's ranking Democrat. "Almost one-quarter of the world's inmates are locked up in the United States, yet Americans constitute only five percent of the world population. In addition, the incarceration rate for African Americans is six times that of the national incarceration average. I welcome the work of the over-criminalization task force in analyzing this serious issue."

"Although crime is primarily a matter for states and localities to handle, over the last 40 or so years Congress has increasingly sought to address societal problems by adding criminal provisions to the federal code," said Scott. "There are now over 4,000 federal criminal provisions, plus hundreds of thousands of federal regulations which impose criminal penalties, often without requiring that criminal intent be shown to establish guilt. As a result, we are hearing many complaints of overuse and abusive uses of federal criminal laws from a broad-based coalition of organizations ranging from the Heritage Foundation to the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. Today, we are establishing a bipartisan task force on over-criminalization to assess issues and make recommendations for improvements to the federal criminal system, and I look forward to working with my colleagues on this worthy endeavor."

"This Task Force is a step in the right direction and could propose recommendations to significantly alleviate mass incarceration and racial disparities in the federal system," said Jasmine Tyler, deputy director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. "The establishment of this Task Force is long overdue for the drug policy reform movement. It is past time for Congress to re-examine marijuana laws, conspiracy laws, mandatory minimum sentencing, and the appropriate role and use of the federal government’s resources."

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Justice Safety Valve Act Introduced in House

On Wednesday, US Reps. Bobby Scott (D-VA) and Thomas Massie (R-KY) introduced the Justice Safety Valve Act of 2013, House Bill 1695, in the House of Representatives. Identical companion legislation, Senate Bill 619, was introduced in the Senate by Sens. Rand Paul (R-KY) and Pat Leahy (D-VT) last month.

US Representative Bobby Scott (D-VA)
Under pressure from sentencing reform advocates, as well as civil rights activists, Congress modified its strict mandatory minimum drug sentencing regime years ago to create a "safety valve" allowing some -- but not all -- drug offenders to avoid harsh mandatory minimum sentences. The 2013 Justice Safety Valve Act would expand the safety valve to apply to all federal crimes involving mandatory minimums.

"Mandatory minimum sentences have been shown to mandate unjust results," said Rep. Scott. "They have a racially discriminatory impact, studies conclude that they waste the taxpayer's money, and they often violate common sense."

"The one size fits all approach of federally mandated minimums does not give local judges the latitude they need to ensure that punishments fit the crimes," said Rep. Massie. "As a result, nonviolent offenders are sometimes given excessive sentences. Furthermore, public safety can be compromised because violent offenders are released from our nation's overcrowded prisons to make room for nonviolent offenders."

Noting that the federal Bureau of Prisons accounts for 25% of all Justice Department spending, Scott and Massie said passage of the measure was necessary to help reduce "the bloated federal prison population." Drug offenders make up nearly 50% of the more than 200,000 current federal prisoners.

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Bill Filed to Create National Marijuana Commission

A bill that would establish a National Commission on Marijuana Policy was introduced in the US Congress last week. Filed by Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN), House Bill 1635 seeks a commission that would undertake a comprehensive review of the costs and benefits of current federal marijuana prohibition, as well as examining how federal policy should interact with state laws that have either approved medical marijuana or legalized marijuana outright.

Steve Cohen (house.gov)
Cohen's proposal is inspired by the 1971 Shafer Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse, which was commissioned by President Richard Nixon but then shelved when it recommended decriminalizing marijuana. The commission report resulted in decriminalization in a handful of states in the 1970s, before marijuana reform went into the deep freeze during the Reagan era.

"Regardless of your views on marijuana, it's important that we understand the impact of current federal policy and address the conflict with those state laws that allow for medicinal or personal use of marijuana," said Congressman Cohen. "This conflict is only going to continue to grow over the next few years and we must provide certainty to the millions of individuals and businesses that remain caught in a web of incompatible laws. A national commission would provide us with the information we need to create sensible policy going forward."

Joining Cohen in backing the bill are cosponsors Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Sam Farr (D-CA), Jim Moran (D-VA), and Jared Polis (D-CO).

"The Obama administration has repeatedly stated that a national conversation is needed when it comes to our country’s marijuana policies, but so far that conversation has been largely one sided," said Erik Altieri, communications director for NORML, which worked with Cohen on drafting the bill. "It is time for federal lawmakers to listen to the voice of the majority of Americans who want to see change to our nation’s marijuana laws and for them to take part in that dialogue."

"We have clearly reached a point where the American people want marijuana prohibition to end," said Steve Fox, national political director for the Marijuana Policy Project. "The states have been taking the lead, but the federal government must catch up. It is no longer a question of whether the federal government should allow states to enact their own marijuana policies. Of course, it should. The question now is how to reconcile state and federal laws. This commission bill proposes a study and a discussion that is long overdue."

The proposed commission would consist of 13 members: five appointed by the president; two appointed by the Speaker of the House; two appointed by the House minority leader; two appointed by the Senate majority leader; and two appointed by the Senate minority leader.

Eighteen states and the District of Columbia allow patients with qualifying conditions to use medical marijuana with recommendations from their physicians. In November, voters in Colorado and Washington State approved measures making marijuana legal for adults 21 and older and directing state regulatory bodies to create regulations for businesses to cultivate and sell marijuana to adults.

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