Earl Blumenauer calls for end of Federal marijuana prohibition

Chris Lowe

"Instead of arresting two-thirds of a million people every year for using something that half of Americans feel should be legal, we should embark on a reasonable program allowing states to develop their own programs that the federal government should tax and regulate. This is a position that conservatives who respect states’ rights and liberals who respect individual rights should be able to get behind." - Earl Blumenauer

Representative Earl Blumenauer has issued a report co-authored with Rep. Jared Polis of Colorado title The Path Forward: Rethinking Federal Marijuana Policy, calling for an end to Federal marijuana prohibition, and creation of a Federal regulatory framework that would allow states freedom to make their own policies, at least up to a point, while capturing tax revenues from sales for the Federal government.

In an email letter to constituents, Blumenauer says that prohibition "ruins lives" at huge costs in enforcement, and that the moment is ripe for change, given recent state legalizations in Washington and Colorado, and wide if divided support for ending prohibition. He writes:

Instead of arresting two-thirds of a million people every year for using something that half of Americans feel should be legal, we should embark on a reasonable program allowing states to develop their own programs that the federal government should tax and regulate. This is a position that conservatives who respect states’ rights and liberals who respect individual rights should be able to get behind.

Once we have established this principle, we should finally institute a framework to tax and regulate marijuana that will save billions of dollars in enforcement-related costs and raise billions in new revenue for deficit reduction, substance abuse, and law enforcement.

This is mainly a preliminary post, to give people access to the news and the link, but here are a couple of observations to start discussion. Substantively, depending on how much tax revenue Blumenauer and Polis want to secure for the Federal budget from marijuana sales, there may be a certain tension with similar aims among the states. However there is a federal excise tax on liquor that gives a precedent.

Stylistically this is a new departure for Blumenauer, who is famous (or not famous) for taking a low key approach to complicated policy involving transportation and other matters. If he and Polis are right about the moment, this could Earl's path out of his previous small-ball game. In any case it is a welcome use by Earl of the security of his seat to advance a progressive cause, ending the perverse and racially disparate harms caused by wrong-headed repressive approaches to marijuana. Others may be more concerned with the libertarian dimensions. Blumenauer is a progressive enough fellow, most impressively in recent years in his votes against bloated military budgets and war spending, but some, including me. have felt that given his security he could do more. This fits the bill.

Politically it will be interesting to see how this plays out. Some conservatives in both parties may jump on the chance to revisited the slogan "Just Say No" (perhaps Blumenauer should ask Phil Knight if he can bring "Just Do It" out of retirement). There will be public health questions from health and faith leaders; these should be weighed against the massive social havoc wreaked by current enforcement aimed disproportionately at communities of color. On the other hand, it will test Republican libertarianism and commitment to devolutionary federalism, if GOP leaders in the House let it get that far.

Less directly, Republican opposition might deepen their problems with youth, but some may weigh that against the manner in which current prohibitionism feeds into their voter suppression strategies, by removing persons convicted of drug felonies from the voter rolls. How it plays out across regional and ideological differences among Democrats will also be interesting to watch.

So, congratulations to Earl Blumenauer for stepping up and taking leadership on an issue that could improve tens of millions of lives and make our society fairer and freer, over time.

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