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Senate moves to legalize pot at federal level. What are the chances?

Sasha Hupka, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

The bill ultimately failed to move out of committee in the Senate.

—What does the new draft legislation do?

The bill draft is partially based on last year's failed effort. It proposes removing federal penalties for marijuana, expunging criminal records for nonviolent offenders of federal cannabis laws, earmarking funding for restorative justice programs, establishing tax rates for cannabis products and formally allowing states to decide whether to legalize pot.

John Hudak, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who researches state and federal marijuana policy, said the draft legislation gives states "quite a bit of deference."

For marijuana producers and retailers in states where recreational use is already legalized, removing federal penalties for marijuana will solve banking, taxation and transport problems, cannabis reform advocates say.

In places where weed is still illegal, state governments can opt to keep it that way.


However, without federal prohibition, pot-unfriendly states wouldn't be able to prevent interstate transport of marijuana. Those states would also miss out on tax revenue. Marijuana advocates predict state governments could be pushed toward legalization if the federal draft bill was to be signed into law.

"While it wouldn't tell Nebraska you have to legalize marijuana, it would say you have to allow marijuana that's being transported from California to Ohio to be able to pass through on your interstate highway system," said Justin Strekal, political director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. "That is going to trigger a tectonic shift in thinking."

—Would the federal government stop all regulation of pot?

No, not under the current proposal.


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