The Path Forward: 5 Challenges In Federal Marijuana Policy


By Romain Bonilla, Portland State University SSDP

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The congressmen behind the federal marijuana bills, Earl Blumenauer and Jared Polis, co-authored "The Path Forward: Rethinking Federal Marijuana Policy," a report in which they discuss their views on marijuana and its relationship to the federal government. This is a great account of a policy-maker's perspective on the issue, and I can only hope more politicians follow suit.

The 19-page report covers several aspects of marijuana - from the costs of prohibition to the shifts in public opinion - and its content references a generous amount of reliable sources. More importantly, The Path Forward highlights the current challenges pertaining to the conflict between federal and state laws. Polis and Blumenauer broke it down to five challenges:

  1. Enforcement: "The federal government must choose the degree to which it will enforce federal law in states that have legalized marijuana under state law. Strict enforcement will become increasingly difficult and costly as more states legalize marijuana." (p. 11)
  2. Federal Tax Challenges: "Many state  tax systems link to provisions in  the federal tax code. In these situations, even where medical marijuana is legal, business expenses cannot be deducted from state taxes." (p. 12)
  3. Banking and Business Challenges:"Banks will not risk federal prosecution. Therefore, many medical marijuana businesses have difficulty accessing capital and are forced to operate on a cash-only basis, which raises the risks for money laundering, tax evasion, robbery, and other crimes." (p. 12)
  4. Medical Marijuana Research: "Permission to obtain marijuana for medical research has been quite difficult. Thus while opponents of medical marijuana research often point to the absence of peer-reviewed studies that establish the medical benefits of marijuana, the absence of such studies is more directly a result of the extreme legal and funding difficulties surrounding conducting such a scientific study." (p. 12)
  5. Hemp: "Despite its proven industrial use in products such as paper, fabrics, insulation and more, current federal marijuana laws make it illegal to grow industrial hemp in the United States. Given the negligible levels of THC in the product, the fear of industrial hemp is not only misplaced, it harms the  economy by forcing companies to import raw hemp." (p. 13)

While these are certainly not the only challenges in marijuana policy, the points chosen by Polis and Blumenauer create a new way to frame the issue. Since state laws implementing alternatives to marijuana prohibition are at odds with federal legislation, many Americans are concerned about federal interference. But there is more to this conflict than merely the enforcement of the law. By discussing the practical, financial, and fiscal implications of banning marijuana at the federal level, Earl Blumenauer and Jared Polis provide the public with additional levels of critique of the federal approach towards marijuana.