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The following is presented as part of The Columbian’s Opinion content, which offers a point of view in order to provoke thought and debate of civic issues. Opinions represent the viewpoint of the author. Unsigned editorials represent the consensus opinion of The Columbian’s editorial board, which operates independently of the news department.

In Our View: Reform of federal pot laws worthy endeavor

The Columbian
Published: February 14, 2019, 6:03am

A package of bills to reform federal marijuana laws likely is ahead of its time. But there is hope that robust discussion will result in a more coherent and sensible policy governing the drug at the national level.

Most important is for the Trump administration to provide a clear signal that businesses in states with legalized marijuana may proceed unencumbered, and that marijuana be de-scheduled under the Controlled Substances Act. Public opinion polls and state legislation have indicated shifting attitudes toward marijuana, and it is time for the federal government to recognize that.

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., has introduced the Marijuana Revenue and Regulation Act in the Senate Finance Committee, seeking to de-schedule marijuana, establish a federal excise tax on legal sales and create a system of permits for marijuana businesses. Wyden decried the federal prohibition on marijuana and said his bill would “bring our country’s marijuana policies into the 21st century.”

There is no telling whether the Republican-controlled Senate is ready to advance that policy. The Trump administration, particularly when Jeff Sessions was serving as attorney general before resigning in November, has stressed that marijuana remains illegal under federal law and has suggested that the federal prohibition should supersede state laws.

In Washington, voters approved Initiative 502 with 56 percent of the vote in 2012, allowing for the recreational use of marijuana for adults 21 and older (in Clark County, 50.3 percent of voters opposed the measure). Since then, a robust industry has been established, but there remains the prospect of a federal crackdown and a legal battle between the state and the United States government.

Recreational use has been approved in 10 states, and another 21 have legalized medical marijuana. That represents the growing divide between public sensibilities and federal law and highlights the need for change at the federal level.

Wyden’s legislation, which is being carried by Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., in the House of Representatives, is part of a three-bill package. The bills’ summary says the goal is to “pave the way for responsible federal regulation of the legal marijuana industry, and provide certainty for state-legal marijuana businesses which operate in nearly every state in the U.S.”

That is a sensible desire, but it appears unlikely to gain much traction among Republicans in the Senate and the White House. Ideally, the process will lead the federal government to work with states to protect marijuana markets and also will lead to a reclassification of marijuana.

The Drug Enforcement Administration classifies marijuana as a Schedule I drug, placing it in a class with heroin, LSD and ecstasy. Cocaine, methamphetamine and fentanyl — to use three examples — are Schedule II drugs.

The Schedule I listing is the most restrictive and erects barriers that limit research of a substance, and it is difficult to defend marijuana’s inclusion in that category.

“At a time when we need as much information as possible about these drugs, we should be lowering regulatory and other barriers to conducting this research,” a Senate committee argued last year.

Wyden’s bill can help create momentum toward more sensible federal policy regarding marijuana — as voters in Washington and several other states have demonstrated is possible.