Mercedys M. and Karen E. Szabo
Some people on Capitol Hill are tired of maintaining the outlandish federal position on Cannabis. Nine unique bills have been introduced – one into the Senate and the other eight into the U.S. House of Representatives – to change the outdated status-quo wreaking havoc on our society. Yet, despite the outrageous costs of these policies, an unprecedented number of arrests, stunted economic growth and unrealized potential, most Congresspeople fail to take this issue seriously. Americans that want change must join the movement demanding it. Once you have finished reading this article you will know exactly what you can do to make a difference in addressing these important issues.
Another level of bureaucracy:
H.R. 1635 — National Commission on Federal Marijuana Policy Act of 2013 establishes a commission to study Cannabis in a variety of manners, including: how state and federal policies should interact, the health effects of Cannabis use in comparison to tobacco and alcohol, the costs and impact of federal policies, and the implications of changes in regulations in international affairs. The membership composition, powers and administration of the committee are also outlined. The committee is required to submit a final report to the president and Congress within one year after its $10,000,000 operational budget becomes available.
IMPACT: The report of this committee would provide an in-depth analysis of the information needed to critically consider the best approach for transforming federal Cannabis regulations. With only four cosponsors, this bill will need significantly more support before having any real chance of enactment. But this is the newest bill, having been introduced on April 18th, 2013, so time will tell if it can become a viable prospect.
Protecting medical patients:
H.R. 784 — States’ Medical Marijuana Property Rights Protection Act prohibits the seizure of real property from medical Cannabis patients acting in accordance with state regulations.
IMPACT: Despite the fact that over one-third of the states in our nation and, most recently, Washington D.C. have approved medical Cannabis usage, the federal government continues to prosecute for these crimes. Everyday medical Cannabis patients, caregivers, employees and small business owners who pay taxes, create jobs and comply within the laws of their states must face the reality that the federal government could seize their property for breaking federal laws. This bill provides peace of mind by protecting land and related structures — which is likely their biggest asset — from forfeiture by the Federal Government. At least then the federal government could only fine them, seize other assets, garnish their wages or put them in prison. But with only four cosponsors even this basic protection won’t likely be granted.
H.R. 710 — Truth in Trials Act increases the protection of those involved in the medical Cannabis industry and usage by allowing for the introduction of evidence during their trial illustrating that they were following state law. Not only does it stipulate that plants cannot be seized if being grown with the recommendation of a physician or at the request of a state or local governmental entity, but also requires that the federal government hold seized property until the trial is over. If the defense is successful the property must be returned.
IMPACT: This bill provides protection from prosecution for caregivers, dispensary owners, and others involved in the industry which would diminish the environment of fear which stunts industry advancement. It also protects them from loss of the valuable crops upon which their economic future rests.
10 cosponsors supported the bill even before it was introduced and three more have joined since then but GovTrack.us only estimates it has a 4 percent chance of moving past the House Judiciary Committee so it can be considered by the entire House.
H.R. 689 — States Medical Marijuana Patient Protection Act would reclassify marijuana in the Controlled Substances Act to either a Schedule III, IV or V. While the classification criteria is complicated, this act basically requires regulating it as the diversely utilizable medicine it is and removes it from classification with hardcore synthetic drugs like heroin, meth and LSD. It also bars the Controlled Substance Act or the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act from being used to interfere with state-sanctioned medical Cannabis usage.
IMPACT: By removing medical Cannabis from being a Schedule I — which signifies there is no accepted medical use — and prohibiting classifying it as a Schedule II — a drug with severe restrictions in its medical usage — this bill recognizes the widespread applicability of medical Cannabis and protects those acting in compliance with state regulations from federal prosecution. Not only does this move reduce federal expenditures on the War on Drugs but also offers the security Cannabusinesses need to spur substantial economic growth. It would also lead to substantial research into promising Cannabis-based treatment options for a variety of illnesses since earning FDA approval of new medications would be easier.
The bill was introduced on February 14, 2013 and has 15 cosponsors. Govtrack.us estimates it has a 3 percent chance of moving past one of the two committees to which it was assigned but a 0 percent chance of being enacted.
The Industrial Hemp Farming Act of 2013 has been introduced to both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. This bill establishes the legal definition of industrial hemp. If passed, crops of Cannabis sativa L.with a THC content of less than .3 percent dry weight will be able to be cultivated domestically in states where it is not prohibited by state regulations. The bill is under consideration by various committees in both branches of Congress but has far more support in the House where it has gained bipartisan support from 37 cosponsors. Yet it has a better chance at being enacted by the Senate — a whopping 2 percent with its four cosponsors.
IMPACT: Despite having more than 25,000 known uses, the American hemp market is insignificant due to the prohibition against domestic production and the high costs associated with importation due to its heavy weight.
Hemp usage has increased dramatically in recent decades as its 25,000 known uses have been recognized. Yet, most of the estimated 400-million-dollar-a-year industry remains untapped due to bureaucratic regulations. Regulations allow for importation but the heavy weight and complex legal situation makes imported hemp an expensive commodity to compete with domestically produced ones like lumber and cotton.
The enactment of H.R. 525 and S. 359 would create jobs by opening up this market, which would allow Americans to realize the potential of hemp as a source of renewable cloth, paper, energy and food. In a world struggling to feed, clothe and maintain quality of life for billions, we can no longer afford to ignore the multitude of benefits hemp has to offer over less environmentally friendly industries.
Federal Deregulation and Taxation:
H.R. 1523 — Respect State Marijuana Laws Act of 2013 amends the Controlled Substances Act by adding, “Notwithstanding any other provision of law, the provisions of this subchapter related to marihuana shall not apply to any person acting in compliance with State laws relating to the production, possession, distribution, dispensation, administration, or delivery of marihuana.” Since introduction on April 12th, 2013, this bill has gained 11 cosponsors — 11 Democrats and 2 Republicans — and currently has an 8 percent chance of moving past either the House Judiciary or Energy and Commerce Committees and a 2 percent chance of enactment.
IMPACT: H.R. 1523 affirms that regulating usage of Cannabis is a state’s right while protecting all individuals acting in accordance with the laws of their state from federal prosecution.
H.R. 499 — Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2013 decriminalizes Cannabis by removing it from the Controlled Substances Act and transfers regulation authority from the Drug Enforcement Administration to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. This grants states the right to individually determine how to regulate Cannabis within their borders. For states where Cannabis usage remained illegal the federal government would continue to aid in preventative efforts and prosecuting offenders for importing the crop. Concurrently, H.R. 501 Marijuana Tax Equity Act of 2013 establishes a structure for taxing Cannabis and penalties for noncompliance. The proposed tax would be relatively high — 50 percent of the sale tax — but would only be charged once. If one purchases it for resale or for growing then no taxes are due.
IMPACT: H.R. 499 undoubtedly has the largest potential impact and could take the place of all of the bills except the Marijuana Tax Equity Act of 2013.
The monetary impact alone is notable. In a day of big government and even bigger deficits, the potential savings and tax revenue is much needed. Jeffrey Miron, a Harvard economist well respected for his research on the fiscal consequences of our drug policy, estimates the savings and new tax revenue would amount to $15 – 20 billion per year. This money could be much better spent on a variety of programs.
Protect personal liberty
But rather than invest in our education system, sustainable development technologies or reduce our budget deficit, many on Capitol Hill prefer to continue going further into debt to prevent Americans from possessing an herb. FBI statistics indicate local authorities arrested more the than 660,000 in 2011 alone for Cannabis possession.
Each of these Americans had their lives disturbed in immeasurable ways from their ‘crimes.’ The disturbance of their everyday lives — inability to care for their children, go to work or meet any of their other commitments — was just the beginning. After release, the stigmatization began. Deregulation of Cannabis would be a powerful move to protect individual liberty.
Spur economic growth
Deregulating would guarantee access to important services, such as banking and advertising, and guarantee the same rights as other businesses like deducting business expenses from your income before paying taxes. Rather than wasting time dealing with bureaucratic roadblocks companies could invest in productive energies, like research and development. These two changes alone would allow the diverse industry to thrive to indeterminate heights.
Have we mentioned protecting state rights?
The U.S. Constitution grants all powers not specifically reserved for the federal government as state’s rights. There is no compelling reason why Cannabis usage should be regulated federally, denying states the rights to regulate it like they do tobacco and alcohol. Deregulation would also check the growing strength of the federal government.
And human rights?
The Mexican Institute for Competitiveness estimates that drug cartels bank more than $2 billion dollars from providing Americans with Cannabis. In order to protect their lucrative drug trade, cartels resort to violence. BBC News reports violence related to the Mexican Drug Cartels has resulted in the death of more than 60,000 people since 2006. Ending federal prohibition would weaken drug cartels and, by extension, help end the cartels’ reign of fear and chaos.
Yet next to no chance of being enacted:
Since the Marijuana Tax Equity Act of 2013 was introduced on February 5, 2013 it has only gained 15 cosponsors. It is currently being considered in the House Ways and Means Committee where it will likely die. Govtrack.us estimates it only has a 1 percent chance of moving past the committee and considered by the House as a whole.
The Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2013 has only a 3 percent chance of moving past any of the five committees currently considering it. This bill, introduced on February 5, 2013, and has gained a total of 15 cosponsors.
So, what can you do?
The probability of our Congressmen enacting these bills is well below average. Govtrack.us calculates that 11 percent of bills make it past a House of Representatives committee, but the Industrial Hemp Act has the highest probability of enactment at 9 percent! The Industrial Hemp Farming Act of 2013 (S. 359) is the only bill under consideration with an “average” chance of being enacted at 2 percent.
Our Congresspersons must be compelled to lead us past the era of irresponsible federal prohibition. Perhaps the single biggest step you could do to help them is to let your legislator know you demand the federal government adopt responsible Cannabis regulation. Give them a call, send an email and sign petitions to show your support. A bill must move past a committee before being considered for enactment, and for that they require approval of the chairman of the committee. Americans need to be flooding the offices, email boxes and websites of this handful of Congresspersons who ultimately determine if our representatives can even have a say in this matter.
But don’t stop there! We need hundreds of thousands of Americans to do the same! This won’t happen until Americans know what America is missing out on due to our inaction. So start talking about these bills. Remember some of the key facts listed above and discuss them with your friends, family and even strangers as you go about your day. Build activism into your daily routine.
And join a local group supporting the anti-prohibition movement. Check the community section of local newspapers and on Craigslist, look at the student clubs at local colleges — most of which you don’t need to be a student to join — or do a bit of research online to find a local group; there are thousands all across America.
Can’t find one in your area? Start one. Recruit a few friends, post some ads on Craigslist, set up a stand at the local farmers market and get busy talking to people. Write editorials for the local papers, post fliers, create a Facebook group — really, the opportunities for getting people involved are endless. It’s just a matter of taking action and building activism into your daily routine.
The opportunities are all around us but without dedication they will wither away, being lost in Congressional committees too focused on other matters to take this matter seriously. The question is not if a united call to action can make this a priority but, rather, will it? Do Americans care enough to join our voices demanding legislation which restores our individual liberty, affirms states’ rights, smaller government and unleashes the potential of Cannabis to rejuvenate our economy and protect our environment?