Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden proposed legislation Friday that would give states a free hand to allow legal cannabis markets without the threat of federal criminal intervention, a move that marked the latest push in Congress to bolster the nation’s burgeoning pot industry.
The proposal, identical to a bill in the House, aims to ease the longstanding conflict between states where cannabis is legal in some form and the U.S. government, which categorizes marijuana as a dangerous illegal drug, similar to LSD or heroin.
“The federal prohibition of marijuana is wrong, plain and simple,” Wyden, a Democrat, said in a statement. “Too many lives have been wasted, and too many economic opportunities have been missed.”
Most Americans live in states where pot can be legally purchased for medical or recreational use, and the move to loosen federal restrictions on marijuana came as the issue has played into the emerging 2020 presidential campaign.
A similar proposal previously languished in Congress.
But Rep. Earl Blumenauer, an Oregon Democrat carrying the current bill in the House, said voters have “elected the most pro-cannabis Congress in American history.”
The proposal would remove federal criminal penalties for individuals and businesses acting in compliance with state marijuana laws. It would also reduce barriers for legal marijuana businesses to get access to banking.
A separate bill would impose a tax on marijuana products similar to federal excise taxes on alcohol, while another would allow state-legal marijuana businesses to claim tax deductions and credits.
Justin Strekal, political director of the pro-legalization group NORML, said in a statement that the proposal is another sign of the “growing public support for ending our failed war on cannabis consumers.”