Democratic lawmakers seek to decriminalize and tax pot

Tue Feb 5, 2013 2:29pm EST
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By Susan Heavey

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. states would be free to decide how to regulate marijuana just like beer and wine without running foul of federal law under legislation being proposed by two Democratic lawmakers.

Earl Blumenauer of Oregon and Jared Polis of Colorado plan to introduce two bills in the House of Representatives on Tuesday amid a growing movement to legalize pot for personal use, whether recreational or medical.

One bill would end a federal ban on marijuana and give states jurisdiction over its use and regulate it in a similar way to alcohol sales, with federal oversight. The other would levy a federal tax on its sale, the congressmen said in a statement.

The bills will likely face significant difficulties in the House, where conservative Republicans hold a majority and control what legislation moves forward. A similar, bipartisan effort by other representatives failed to gain traction in 2011.

Washington state and Colorado voted to legalize marijuana in 2012 but now face questions on how to implement their laws while national authorities still consider the drug illegal. Illinois lawmakers also considered legalizing pot for medical use last year, but the effort lacked support.

Eighteen states, including California, Oregon and Washington DC, allow marijuana sales for medical use to help patients cope with pain and other chronic conditions, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, which tracks state laws.

Last year's votes in Washington state and Colorado have buoyed those who support easing access to marijuana, the most commonly used illegal drug in the United States. Polls show a majority of Americans support legalizing pot.

Critics say that despite widespread use and acceptance, the drug, derived from the cannabis plant and usually smoked, carries health risks, especially for youth. And they question whether it has benefits for medical use.   Continued...

An attendee holds marijuana buds at the International Cannabis & Hemp Expo in Oakland, California September 3, 2011. REUTERS/Mathew Sumner