Republican Congresswoman Introduces Bill to End Federal Marijuana Criminalization

Any legislation that takes us a step toward freedom is a welcome development.

Dozens of states have legalized recreational or medical marijuana use, while a supermajority of the public supports ending its prohibition. Yet the federal government hasn’t caught up, and marijuana remains technically illegal under federal law even in states that have outright legalized it. 

A libertarian-leaning Republican congresswoman is leading the charge to correct this legislative dysfunction. South Carolina Rep. Nancy Mace recently introduced the States Reform Act, a bill that ends the federal prohibition and leaves it up to states to make their own call on marijuana legalization.

“Every state is different,” Mace said. “Cannabis reform at the federal level must take all of this into account. And it’s past time federal law codifies this reality. This is why I’m introducing the States Reform Act, a bill which seeks to remove cannabis from Schedule I in a manner consistent with the rights of states to determine what level of cannabis reform each state already has, or not.”

The legislation is co-sponsored by five other congressional Republicans: Reps. Peter Meijer, Tom McClintock, Don Young, Kenneth Buck, and Brian Mast.

"While we’ve rightly designated states the authority to regulate marijuana, our federal policies still run counter to their efforts," Meijer told FEE. "States that have moved forward with marijuana decriminalization and legalization policies need clarity to continue their efforts, and our bill provides this certainty. I’m glad to partner in this endeavor to decriminalize marijuana at the federal level and give states clear cut control over cannabis laws and regulations.”

The bill would end the federal prohibition of marijuana, require the automatic expungement of federal criminal records for those convicted of nonviolent marijuana offenses, and set a 3 percent excise tax on marijuana.

This tax is much lower than the 10 to 25 percent levied by Democratic legislation. And Mace’s bill freezes the excise tax at 3 percent for 10 years—to stop the black market from lingering as has happened in states like California where marijuana is legalized but heavily regulated and taxed.

“The beauty of the States Reform Act is that it's both simple and reasonably comprehensive,” said Reason Foundation director of drug policy Geoffrey Lawrence, who helped craft the legislation. “Enacting major social change requires broad, bipartisan agreement, and the States Reform Act checks that box.”

Because the States Reform Act makes incremental, practical reforms, it could actually draw bipartisan support and pass a polarized Congress. If it does, it will make life much easier for legal cannabis businesses and users, who face many financial and legal headaches because their activity is still technically illegal under federal law.  

We ultimately should live in an America where no peaceful individual activity like adult marijuana use is criminalized or outlawed. But progress takes time, and any legislation that takes us a step toward freedom is a welcome development in my book. 

This article has been updated to include comment from Rep. Peter Meijer. 

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