The measure would not change local-level restrictions, meaning that states would still determine their own marijuana statutes.
But the bill would levy a 3% federal excise tax on all cannabis products, proceeds from which would go to small businesses, retraining law enforcement and mental health services, among other services. The measure would also expunge nonviolent, cannabis-only related offenses.
“It allows states to do what they are doing today and want to do with regards to release and expungement,” said South Carolina Rep. Nancy Mace, who introduced the bill. “It gets the federal government out of the way of what states are already doing today and levies a 3% excise tax. It creates a framework for regulation at the federal level much like alcohol.”
Mace said the bill will be co-sponsored by at least half a dozen GOP House members.
“I tried to make this palatable for both sides of the aisle, and having expungement and release of federal non-violent cannabis users was a big component of that,” said Mace. “Republicans and Democrats alike have for years now tried to create second chances for these kinds of individuals and this bill does that. It will affect about 2,600 inmates, given the expungement and release.”
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 36 states and four territories allow medical cannabis use, while 18 states, two territories and the District of Columbia allow non-medical adult use.
American support for marijuana legalization has grown, underscoring a national shift as more states have embraced cannabis for medical or recreational use. According to a Gallup survey conducted earlier this year, more than two in three Americans supported legalizing marijuana, maintaining a record high reached a year earlier.
The measure would tackle regulation of marijuana in three silos, giving the U.S. Department of Agriculture purview over growers, while the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives would oversee the cannabis industry. Medical marijuana would be regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, Mace said, adding that she would propose the drug be regulated similarly to alcohol.
But some of Mace’s fellow South Carolina Republicans have pushed back against the bill. South Carolina GOP Chairman Drew McKissick released a statement rebuking Mace’s bill, not referencing her by name but saying the state GOP opposed “any effort to legalize, decriminalize the use of controlled substances, and that includes this bill.”
“I don’t know why some Republicans are pushing back on federalism and states rights. That’s something that Republicans champion right?” Mace said on “Morning in America.”
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D.-N.Y.) in July became the chamber’s first leader to back legalizing marijuana, pledging to “make this a priority in the Senate,” where Sens. Cory Booker, of New Jersey, and Ron Wyden, of Oregon, have drafted legislation. Mace said the tax on Schumer’s proposal was too high.
“The beauty of the 3% excise tax, it is very much different than Senator Schumer’s proposal of 25%. If you have a tax that high, there’s going to continue to be an illegal illicit and black market,” said Mace. “And so this bill, again, would provide a framework that would reduce the proclivity for an illicit market or a black market in states across the country.”
Legalization advocates hope to have a champion in Vice President Kamala Harris, who said before her election that making pot legal at the federal level is the “smart thing to do.”
Cannabis companies recently have launched a celebrity-infused campaign to enlist marijuana users to pressure members of Congress to legalize pot nationwide. The “Cannabis in Common” initiative makes it easier for supporters to email or call their congressional representatives and push for making marijuana legal.
Pro-legalization groups have mounted state and federal campaigns for years, and advocates are split about “Cannabis in Common,” which isn’t focused on any particular piece of legislation. Organizers say it breaks ground by extensively involving major industry players and mobilizing their customers.