Members of Congress will bring forth a bill Thursday that supporters say is the first ever introduced to end federal law's blanket prohibition of marijuana.
The legislation -- authored by Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., and Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas -- would limit the federal government's role in marijuana enforcement to cross-border or interstate smuggling, letting people legally grow, use or sell marijuana in states that allow it without fear of federal prosecution.
The bill's original co-sponsors include Reps. John Conyers, D-Mich.; Steve Cohen, D-Tenn.; Jared Polis, D-Colo.; and Barbara Lee, D-Oakland.
"The human cost of the failed drug war has been enormous -- egregious racial disparities, shattered families, poverty, public health crises, prohibition-related violence, and the erosion of civil liberties. And of course the cost in dollars and cents has been staggering as well -- over a trillion dollars spent to incarcerate tens of millions of young people," Lee said Wednesday. "I co-sponsored this bipartisan legislation because I believe it is time to turn the page from this failed drug war."
Lee has backed earlier marijuana reform efforts, including Frank's bill in 2008 which would've eliminated federal criminal penalties for adults possessing up to 100 grams.
But Marijuana Policy Project spokesman Morgan Fox said that earlier bill would not have lifted all aspects of federal prohibition, while the current bill removes all federal involvement in marijuana law aside from controlling marijuana crossing the U.S. border or between states with different marijuana laws. "Each state would be free to make its own marijuana policy and would be solely responsible for enforcing it," he said.
This is the first bill to repeal the set of laws criminalizing not only possession and use but also sales, Drug Policy Alliance national affairs director Bill Piper explained.
"For instance, alcohol use was legal during alcohol Prohibition. What caused all the violence, corruption, injuries was the prohibition on sales and distribution," Piper said. "That would be the key difference. I guess it depends on whether you're using the word prohibition as 'illegal' versus describing the broader institution that is similar to alcohol Prohibition."
Drug reform advocates have been making much of the fact that last week was the 40th anniversary of President Richard Nixon's declaration of a war on drugs.
Former President Jimmy Carter authored an op-ed piece in the New York Times last week calling for the reform of marijuana laws. And the Global Commission on Drug Policy -- including figures such as former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan; former U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz; and former presidents of Brazil, Colombia, Mexico and Switzerland -- released a report June 2 calling for drug reforms including legal regulation of marijuana.
In November, 53.5 percent of California voters rejected a ballot measure that would have legalized recreational marijuana use; other states may be voting on similar measures soon, and at least five state legislatures have considered legalization legislation in the past year. Medical use of marijuana is now legal in 16 states, including California plus the District of Columbia.