Congress needs to discuss US marijuana laws

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Marijuana is now legal to possess and to smoke except, of course, when it’s not legal.

Confused? You are not alone.

The folks who are supposed to enforce laws in this state are still trying to sort out exactly where the legal lines are drawn with the passage of Washington state’s initiative to make pot legal. A big part of the confusion comes because marijuana is still illegal under federal law. In fact, it’s only Washington and Colorado, which also passed an initiative in November, that allow recreational pot smoking.

President Obama has hinted his administration will look the other way in enforcing drug laws in Washington. The president said he has “bigger fish to fry.”

Yet, Attorney General Eric Holder, who oversees the Justice Department, was not necessarily on the same page. He said the matter is still under review.

And even if the federal government gives Washington a pass on strict enforcement, its neighbors — Oregon, Idaho, California — are not particularly excited about the prospect of marijuana grown and purchased legally being shipped across borders to be sold illegally for profit.

But earlier this month some members of Congress took the first step toward bringing some predictability, as well as sanity, to this legal quagmire.

A bipartisan effort is under way in the House to change federal marijuana laws and establish a hefty national marijuana tax.

Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo., has introduced legislation to regulate marijuana in the same manner the federal government handles alcohol. In states that legalize pot, growers would have to obtain a federal permit. Oversight of marijuana would be removed from the Drug Enforcement Administration and given to the newly renamed Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Marijuana and Firearms, and it would remain illegal to bring marijuana from a state where it’s legal to one where it isn’t, according to The Associated Press.

Meanwhile, Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., is pushing for a federal marijuana excise tax of 50 percent on the “first sale” of marijuana from a grower to a processor or retailer. It also would tax pot producers or importers $1,000 annually and other marijuana businesses $500.

While it is unlikely federal marijuana reform will take place this year, or even next year, it is nevertheless positive Congress is at least talking realistically about marijuana use in America.

The current patchwork created by 50 different state laws and federal policy conflicting with some state laws creates problems for the public and law enforcement. Congress and the states must get in sync.

The specific proposals by Polis and Blumenauer might be too fast and too far — but they are, in theory, representative of the direction the country needs to go as more states legalize pot for medical and recreational use.

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