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New Legislation Would Let States Decide on Marijuana Legalization

(Photo: Luigi Anzivino / Flickr)

Forty years after President Richard Nixon declared the war on drugs, members of Congress introduced a bill on Thursday that would end the federal prohibition of marijuana and allow states to create their own laws to tax, regulate and legalize marijuana use and cultivation.

Reps. Barney Frank (D-Massachusetts) and Ron Paul (R-Texas) introduced the bill with the support from a handful of Democratic co-sponsors and drug policy reform groups. Frank told reporters that he doubts Congress will pass the legislation, but the bill represents solid progress toward national drug reform.

“I think the public is way ahead of legislators on this,” Frank said of the public referendums that have legalized medical marijuana in some states. “This is an educational process that's going on.”

The bill comes at a time when federal attorneys are threatening legal action against states like Arizona and Colorado that have defied the federal prohibition of marijuana by legalizing the drug for medical use. Voters in Colorado and California will soon consider proposals to fully legalize marijuana in their states, and legalization activists say the legislation will signal to voters that the federal government may not be willing to interfere with state decisions.

Marijuana is decriminalized in 14 states and medical marijuana can be obtained by prescription in 16. Marijuana advocates hope that, by ending the federal war on pot, more states will be free to craft reforms.

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The legislation also comes on the heels of a report recently released by the Global Commission on Drug Policy that declares the global war on drugs a complete failure and recommends that countries like the US reform their laws and decriminalize drug use. Members of the commission include Kofi Annan, former secretary general of the United Nations, and the former presidents of Brazil, Colombia, Mexico and Switzerland.

Passionate support for the legislation came from co-sponsor Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tennessee), who told reporters that the federal government should be spending its time and money fighting hard drugs like heroin and methamphetamines instead of trying to control marijuana, which is used by millions of otherwise law-abiding adults. Cohen said hard drugs increase violent crime rates, while marijuana increases visits to “the ice cream shops and the donut shops.”

Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colorado) said that half of the revenue going to Mexican drug cartels comes from pot sales, and the legalization of marijuana will weaken cartels and gangs that commit violent crime.

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