By Griffen Thorne on January 19, 2019
On Wednesday, January 9, 2018, Representative Earl Blumenauer (D-Or) introduced the aptly designated H.R. 420, or the Regulate Marijuana like Alcohol Act. The bill is still so new that it’s not yet up on Congress’ site, but the apparent text for the bill can be found online.
H.R. 420, if passed in its current form, would remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act’s scheduling. The law wouldn’t allow complete legalization without regulation. It still makes clear that bringing cannabis into a jurisdiction would be unlawful where it would violate the laws of that jurisdiction. Instead of full-scale legalization, the bill would require the Secretary of the Treasury to establish a permitting scheme which could, like state law, involve different permits for each different kind of cannabis activity. It’s not yet totally clear how this would play out for permit holders in states with current regimes, i.e., whether they would have to get federal permits and/or what criteria they’d be held to.
Interestingly, these federal permits appear to last indefinitely until suspended and can be transferred if the transferee makes a timely request. There are of course disqualifying convictions, but those appear to be relatively narrow and exclude federal or state offenses if the underlying conduct was lawful in the state where the conviction was rendered. The bill also makes clear that applicants couldn’t get permits that would violate state law (this is an interesting flip where federal law bows to state law) or if an applicant wasn’t likely to commence operations within a reasonable period or maintain them in accordance with federal law.
One other interesting component of the bill is that it would transfer jurisdiction from the Attorney General over marijuana to the re-named Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Marijuana, Firearms, and Explosives. The bill would also give the Food and Drug Administration the same authority over marijuana that it has over alcohol. The bill would also give the Treasury Secretary the authority to regulate certain elements of marijuana advertising to ensure that it was not false or misleading.
Ultimately, the bill leaves more unsaid than said, and if it is ever passes, it will be up to the regulators to figure out the mechanics. It’s not certain that this bill will go anywhere, especially in such a tumultuous and chaotic time. However, the approach of regulating marijuana more or less like alcohol, similar to what many states are already doing and with an element of federal oversight, is a compelling idea.