Why Congress might legalize marijuana (this time)

Rep. Earl Blumenauer explains to Salon why his legalization bill may succeed where others have failed

Topics: marjiuana legalization, earl blumenauer, marijuana,

Why Congress might legalize marijuana (this time)Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Oregon(Credit: AP/Rick Bowmer)

In 1973, Oregon rode the hippie wave to became the first state in the country to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana. Within five years, eight other states had followed, but momentum soon lagged, and then reversed in the Reagan era.

Lately, however, it’s beginning to feel like the ’70s again, with numerous polls showing a majority of Americans in favor of legalizing marijuana and the recent referenda in Colorado and Washington to do just that.

Earl Blumenauer voted on that first decriminalization bill 40 years ago in Oregon — as a “child legislator,” he jokes — and now that he’s in Congress representing the state, he thinks we’re approaching a moment where things are about to speed up very quickly for drug policy reform advocates.

“It’s just come to a head,” he told Salon Thursday afternoon. “This is largely going to be resolved in the next five years.”

Blumenauer, along with Colorado Democratic Rep. Jared Polis, introduced legislation this week to make the federal government treat cannabis like alcohol and let states decide whether to keep it illegal. And they think they have a real chance of getting somewhere this time.

This is hardly the first time lawmakers have introduced legislation to decriminalize or legalize marijuana in Congress. Massachusetts liberal Democrat Barney Frank and Texas libertarian Republican Ron Paul worked together on a number of legalization bills, but both have now left Congress and passed the torch.

“They were very busy people with financial reform and running for president, and I think we have an opportunity this time for some added focus from a number of members of Congress,” he said, noting Frank was a lead author of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform bill and Paul was busy being Paul.

“I think we are in a position now to have a group of members of Congress who are able to spend a little more time and energy in a focused way on this. I think we’ve got a little bit more running room; I think our coalition is broader, and we’ve got people who have not normally been involved in this,” he added, pointing to more conservative members from Colorado who now care about marijuana after the state legalized it in the fall.



On top of his and Polis’ bills (which tax marijuana and end the federal prohibition on it, respectively), he said he anticipates “about a dozen” different pieces of legislation dealing with drug policy reform moving forward. With “a number of folks” already working together in an informal working group, he explained, “We’ve got more people working more systematically.” He declined to elaborate on other members, saying they would be making public statements in the coming months.

More modest goals include ending the federal prohibition on industrial hemp production (it’s legal to make things out of hemp, but illegal to grow it, so the fiber has to be imported), and changing the federal government’s classification of marijuana as more dangerous than cocaine or meth.

The long-term goal, however, is to get the federal government to end the prohibition on marijuana and leave it to states to regulate the drug, just as Congress did when the prohibition on alcohol ended, something that two-thirds of Americans seem to support. “I honestly think that in their heart of hearts, most members of Congress would support that,” Blumenauer said.

Alex Seitz-Wald

Alex Seitz-Wald is Salon's political reporter. Email him at aseitz-wald@salon.com, and follow him on Twitter @aseitzwald.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    Burger King Japan

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Burger King's black cheeseburger: Made with squid ink and bamboo charcoal, arguably a symbol of meat's destructive effect on the planet. Only available in Japan.

    Elite Daily/Twitter

    2014's fast food atrocities

    McDonald's Black Burger: Because the laws of competition say that once Burger King introduces a black cheeseburger, it's only a matter of time before McDonald's follows suit. You still don't have to eat it.

    Domino's

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Domino's Specialty Chicken: It's like regular pizza, except instead of a crust, there's fried chicken. The company's marketing officer calls it "one of the most creative, innovative menu items we have ever had” -- brain power put to good use.

    Arby's/Facebook

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Arby's Meat Mountain: The viral off-menu product containing eight different types of meat that, on second read, was probably engineered by Arby's all along. Horrific, regardless.

    KFC

    2014's fast food atrocities

    KFC'S ZINGER DOUBLE DOWN KING: A sandwich made by adding a burger patty to the infamous chicken-instead-of-buns creation can only be described using all caps. NO BUN ALL MEAT. Only available in South Korea.

    Taco Bell

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Taco Bell's Waffle Taco: It took two years for Taco Bell to develop this waffle folded in the shape of a taco, the stand-out star of its new breakfast menu.

    Michele Parente/Twitter

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Krispy Kreme Triple Cheeseburger: Only attendees at the San Diego County Fair were given the opportunity to taste the official version of this donut-hamburger-heart attack combo. The rest of America has reasonable odds of not dropping dead tomorrow.

    Taco Bell

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Taco Bell's Quesarito: A burrito wrapped in a quesadilla inside an enigma. Quarantined to one store in Oklahoma City.

    Pizzagamechangers.com

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Boston Pizza's Pizza Cake: The people's choice winner of a Canadian pizza chain's contest whose real aim, we'd imagine, is to prove that there's no such thing as "too far." Currently in development.

    7-Eleven

    2014's fast food atrocities

    7-Eleven's Doritos Loaded: "For something decadent and artificial by design," wrote one impassioned reviewer, "it only tasted of the latter."

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>