New legislation introduced by Senator Ron Wyden and Representative Earl Blumenauer, both Oregon Democrats, would take marijuana off the list of federally banned drugs, tax it at a rate similar to alcohol and tobacco, and end the threat of federal criminal penalties for businesses operating in states that allow the use of marijuana for recreational purposes. Democrats from marijuana legal states believe so many Americans have access to marijuana products that the federal government should start managing the industry.

Marijuana businesses would gain access to the regulated banking system under the legislation. Many banks currently are reluctant to open accounts for marijuana businesses because of fears that the federal government could seize the money. Another measure, introduced by Wyden and Senators Michael Bennett (D-Colo.) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.), would allow marijuana businesses to claim federal deductions and tax credits, ending what the senators called a tax penalty on those businesses.

Robert Capecchi, who oversees federal policy for the Marijuana Policy Project stated, “This is commonsense legislation that will eliminate the growing tension between federal and state marijuana laws. States are adopting laws designed to improve public safety by replacing the illegal marijuana market with a tightly regulated system of production and sales. The federal government should be working to facilitate that transition, not hinder it.”

Anti-legalization supporters say the current balance between federal and state laws are unsustainable, and that marijuana use remains a danger to public health. Kevin Sabet, who runs Smart Approaches to Marijuana, a group that opposes legalization stated, “While we support federal laws against marijuana legalization, we don’t want to see folks locked up or given criminal records for smoking pot. While we don’t support an enforcement-centered war on drugs, we do support a targeted approach consistent with public health and social justice that stops the corporate interests driving Big Marijuana.”

Oregon is one of eight states where voters have approved ballot measures to legalize marijuana for recreational use. Those new laws put states in conflict with federal law, which still considers marijuana an illegal drug. The vast majority of Americans live in states where marijuana is legal for medical purposes. Until now, the Department of Justice (DOJ) has taken an arms-length approach to legal marijuana states. A DOJ memo issued under the Obama administration deprioritized prosecution of marijuana-related activity, effectively allowing the industry to operate in states where it is legal.

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