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Lawmakers Introduce Bills to Ease Tax Burdens, Criminal Penalties on Pot

Proposal comes amid continued confusion about Trump administration stance

Two of Congress’ biggest proponents of marijuana legalization redoubled their efforts Thursday with a package of bills to “pave the way” for federal regulation of the burgeoning pot industry. 

The announcement comes amid continued confusion about whether the Trump administration intends to follow through on threats to crack down on marijuana use — including in states where it is legal.

The package of three bills, introduced by two Oregon Democrats, Sen. Ron Wyden and Rep. Earl Blumenauer, would provide an additional layer of security to the fledgling $7 billion marijuana industry by removing tax burdens and the threat of criminal prosecution from businesses and individuals.

That threat has become more pronounced in the absence of clear statements from Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who has equated pot with heroin, on whether he will continue an Obama-era policy that discouraged the enforcement of federal marijuana laws in states where it is legal.

“It appears the attorney general wants to cherry-pick, apparently on the basis of some kind of whim, which states’ rights he likes and which he doesn’t like,” Wyden said during a press call about the legislation.  

Wyden said the votes of the Americans who now live in states with legalized marijuana “shouldn’t be just thrown in the trash can” because of the whims of an administration. After last fall’s election, about 60 percent of Americans live in states where marijuana is legal or soon to be legal in some form.

Blumenauer acknowledged that the bills are unlikely to be considered as stand-alone legislation on the House floor, where they would compete with a packed calendar as lawmakers grapple with the Trump administration’s ambitious requests to rewrite the tax code and to consider deep budget cuts to multiple domestic programs.

But he said he was optimistic that the provisions he and Wyden are proposing could make their way into law through other vehicles such as amendments or policy riders. He added that he hoped the proposal would “start a rational conversation” about the inconsistencies in federal and state marijuana laws.

A bill with similar provisions was heralded as a historic step forward in the fight for marijuana legalization when it was introduced in the Senate in 2015. That bill, the so-called Compassionate Access, Research Expansion, and Respect States Act, garnered a bipartisan group of 19 co-sponsors but did not make it to the Senate floor and has not been reintroduced.

Bluemenauer said the new package is “more comprehensive.”

It would repeal tax penalties for legal marijuana businesses and allow them to take tax deductions and credits available to other businesses; remove federal criminal penalties and civil asset forfeitures for businesses and individuals acting in compliance with state law; allow marijuana businesses access to banking and bankruptcy protections; and create a system to tax marijuana like alcohol, among other provisions.

Such proposals have previously received widespread support from both parties.

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