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Cohen Introduces Bill to Create National Commission on Federal Marijuana Policy

Press Release

Location: Washington, DC

Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09) today introduced legislation to create a National Commission on Federal Marijuana Policy. The Commission would undertake a comprehensive review of the federal government's current policies toward marijuana, particularly in light of the growing number of states where marijuana is already legal for medicinal or personal use.

"Regardless of your views on marijuana, it's important that we understand the impact of current federal policy and address the conflict with those state laws that allow for medicinal or personal use of marijuana," said Congressman Cohen. "This conflict is only going to continue to grow over the next few years and we must provide certainty to the millions of individuals and businesses that remain caught in a web of incompatible laws. A national commission would provide us with the information we need to create sensible policy going forward."

A recent Pew Research Poll found that 52 percent of Americans believe marijuana should be made legal, the first time in 40 years that a majority has supported legalization, and several states are expected to consider proposals to legalize marijuana for medicinal or personal use in the next few years. Since 1996, 18 states plus the District of Columbia have legalized medical marijuana while two states, Colorado and Washington, legalized marijuana for personal use last year. Despite this widespread change on the state level, federal prohibition has remained the law of the land, creating conflicts between state and federal laws across the country.

The "National Commission on Federal Marijuana Policy Act" would examine these conflicts as well as the broad impacts of current federal policy. In 1971, Congress created the "National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse" led by former Pennsylvania Governor Raymond P. Shafer. The Shafer Commission undertook a comprehensive review of the nature and scope of marijuana use, its effects, the relationship of marijuana use to other behavior, and the efficacy of existing law. Its final report, released in 1973, called for the decriminalization of marijuana.

In the four decades since the Shafer Commission, however, the federal government has only expanded its War on Drugs and continued to prohibit the use of marijuana. Public attitudes and scientific understandings of marijuana have changed significantly and it's time to reevaluate federal policy, particularly in light of the growing movement toward state legalization.

Under Congressman Cohen's legislation, the National Commission on Federal Marijuana Policy would study:

-How federal laws should be reconciled with state marijuana laws;

-The cost of marijuana prohibition and potential regulation of marijuana, as well as the potential revenue generated by taxation of marijuana;

-The impact of federal banking and tax laws on businesses operating in compliance with state marijuana laws;

-The health impacts, both benefits and risks, related to marijuana use, and in comparison to alcohol and tobacco use;

-The domestic and international public safety effects of marijuana prohibition and potential regulation of marijuana;

-The impact of marijuana prohibition on criminal justice, including any racial disparities, and the collateral consequences of prosecution for marijuana possession, including lack of access to housing, education, and employment;

-The appropriate placement of marijuana in the schedule of the Controlled Substances Act; and

-The effects of marijuana prohibition or future regulation and control of marijuana on international relationships and treaty obligations.

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