Five Cannabis-Related Bills Proposed in Congress, and What They Could Change

Five measures concerning marijuana were introduced in Congress on March 30. Three came from Oregon lawmakers regarding taxes, baking restrictions and descheduling marijuana; Representative Jared Polis reintroduced his 2015 legislation that would essentially regulate marijuana like alcohol, and another bill that would give people in states with legalized marijuana extra protections from federal prosecution.

Here are the most significant provisions of those proposals, for both the cannabis industry and consumers.

1. Descheduling

Talk to any marijuana advocates and they'll tell you that one of the single biggest hindrances to nationwide legalization is the Drug Enforcement Administration's classification of marijuana as a Schedule I substance. The Marijuana Revenue and Regulation Act would remove marijuana from that classification and end the federal prohibition in the Controlled Substances Act.

2. Banking and Taxes

One of the biggest issues cannabis companies face on a daily basis is the inability to bank like any other regulated business; most banks refuse to do business with marijuana companies, fearing federal repercussions. That's forced the cannabis industry to operate almost entirely in cash. The Policy Gap Act would not necessarily set up a banking structure, but it would create some safeguards and also allow failed companies to declare bankruptcy.

The Small Business Tax Equity Act would also amend the tax code so that any business in compliance with state law could claim business deductions on their taxes. Currently, marijuana businesses are not able to claim such deductions to the IRS.

3. State Protections

Governor John Hickenlooper has said that he's wary of legalizing Colorado's "pot clubs" bill because he doesn't want to put a target on Colorado's back. If Congress passes the Responsibly Addressing the Marijuana Policy Gap Act, that wouldn't be as much of an issue. The bill would "exempt any person acting in compliance with state marijuana law" from facing criminal penalties under the Controlled Substances Act.

4. Criminal Records and Drug Testing

The Policy Gap Act would give some marijuana drug offenders convicted under federal law a clean state. The bill would essentially create an "expungement process" for anyone convicted of possessing an ounce or less of marijuana. The kicker? It's only for people arrested and prosecuted for a federal crime in a state where cannabis was legal at the time of arrest.

Not only does it provide provisions for expunging criminal records, but the bill would prohibit drug-testing applicants for federal jobs in states where marijuana is legal. It would also allow some marijuana offenders to apply to live in federally assisted public housing and receive federal aid, and make some crimes relating to marijuana a non-deportable offense for undocumented immigrants.

5. Research

One of the major roadblocks to legalization is a paucity of scientific study. Lawmakers continually cite a lack of information about the drug's effects as reason not to approve medical or recreational use of the drug. The Obama administration worked to eliminate some of those barriers, but medical research still has to be approved by the DEA, which officially states that the substance has no medical value. This legislation would create a new registration process, making it easier for scientists to be approved to study the drug.
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Kate McKee Simmons interned at the National Catholic Reporter, was a reporter for the New York Post, and spent a brief stint in Israel learning international reporting before writing for Westword.