Congress Has a Chance to Make Marijuana the New Alcohol

Marijuana is kind of like sex. People can’t get enough of either one of them, at least not in the form of Internet headlines, which only partially accounts for why marijuana is making so much news this week.

Serious analysis might suggest that voter mandates to legalize recreational marijuana in Colorado and Washington State in November are continuing to reverberate throughout the zeitgeist, and also in the United States House of Representatives.

Currently, two congressional bills have been introduced to capitalize on a perceived groundswell of opinion for relaxing statutes against the popular herbal intoxicant. But those two congressional measures account for only 40 percent of the current hot trends in cannabis discussion.

Collected here, in easily digestible chunks suitable to a shortened attention span, are five marijuana stories worth tripping out on.

1) Prohibition Repeal—The 1920 prohibition against alcohol required an amendment (the 18th) to the United States Constitution to enact it, and another (the 21st) to repeal it in 1933. Imposing or lifting a marijuana prohibition, in contrast, does not require a two-thirds majority vote in both houses of Congress and ratification by three-fourths of the 50 states. All it takes is one or two congressmen, of the ilk of Jared Polis, D-Col., and Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., to introduce the “Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act.” Once it is passed by the House of Representatives, verified by the United States Senate and signed into law by the President of the United States, the bill will remove marijuana’s classification as an illegal drug under the federal Controlled Substances Act, take the Drug Enforcement Administration out of the marijuana equation, and have the weed regulated by the newly named and reconfigured Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Marijuana and Firearms. “This legislation doesn’t force any state to legalize marijuana,” argues Representative Polis in a press release. “Congress should simply allow states to regulate marijuana as they see fit and stop wasting federal tax dollars on the failed drug war.”

2) Weed Is a Taxing Issue—If vice did not exist in the form of Big Business—if tobacco, alcohol, and highly caffeinated sodas were not such thriving, legally sanctioned profit generators—the government tax coffers would be bulging with revenues scraped from another stream, such as your income. With the federal obsession for new and expanded tax bases in mind, Representative Earl Blumenauer is tempting congress with the Marijuana Tax Equity Act, which might more accurately be called the Tax the F’ing High Clean Out of That Stuff Act. Blumenauer’s bill calls for a 50 percent excise tax on marijuana “first sales,” which are transactions from growers to distributor/producers or retailers. Following the principal of tax upon tax, the Marijuana Tax Equity scheme would further levy a $1,000 annual pinch on pot producers and tap other weed-related businesses $500 per year. Michigan provides an encouraging proof of concept for Blumenauer’s taxing theories: The Detroit Free Press reports that the Michigan state government collected more than $10 million from medical marijuana providers and caregivers in the fiscal year ending in September 2012.

3) Weed Is Paying Its Union Dues—It’s no coincidence that stickers for the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) union have begun appearing on the doors of Los Angeles’s medical marijuana dispensaries. The medical marijuana industry and labor unions are both struggling along. Medical marijuana businesses are going through growing pains; labor unions are scrambling to retain and regain relevance. Union labor, according to current U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics, is working only about 11.3 percent of all American jobs. That percentage is the lowest in the past 100 years. So don’t act surprised that workers groups, led by the UFCW, the nation’s largest retail union, have made significant contributions, including “get out the vote” drives, in the push to legalize medical marijuana. Weed under doctor’s orders is currently legal in California, Washington, D.C. and 17 more states. So, despite only 3,000 of the UFCW’s current membership of 1.3 million currently working in the cannabis industry, the prospect of filling hundreds of thousands of potential marijuana jobs is nothing to blow smoke at.

4) A Stroke of Bad Weed News From Fox—Its use as a medicinal ameliorative does not preclude marijuana from producing unwanted side effects. Known anecdotal and researched downsides to a cannabis high include amotivational syndrome, diminished intellectual and lung capacity, and now—thanks to Fox News and New Zealand researcher Dr. P. Alan Barber—stroke. A study conducted at the University of Auckland has concluded that, maybe, smoking marijuana doubles the risk of ischemic stroke and transient ischemic attack (TIA) in young adults. Barber analyzed the urine of 160 stroke patients between the ages of 18 to 55 and found that 16 percent tested positive for recent marijuana use. The doctor admits that the presence of THC traces is less than conclusive evidence of a direct causal link, but he points out that cannabis can trigger heart palpitations and atrial fibrillation, and restrict arteries in the brain, reducing blood flow to that organ—all known stroke risk factors.

5) Mexico’s President Says Keep Weed Illegal—While some Latin American leaders have hinted that the drug laws and incarceration policies of the United States are fueling the massively lethal, costly and corrupting drug war throughout Central America, Mexico’s President Enrique Peña Nieto is against relaxing prohibitions on illegal drugs. “I’m opposed to legalizing marijuana because it acts as a gateway drug,” Peña Nieto told Germany’s Der Spiegel (via the Washington Post). Whether that gateway opens to stronger narcotics or to another 12,000 people murdered this year in the Mexican drug war was not specified.

What is your favorite marijuana topic? Kick of a discussion in COMMENTS.

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Allan MacDonell is TakePart’s News + Opinion editor, with a focus on social justice. Email Allan | @Allan_MacDonell