On March 30, Sen. Ron Wyden and Rep. Earl Blumenauer introduced three pieces of legislation aimed at upholding state's rights as they pertain to marijuana law. The three bills included the Small Business Tax Equity Act, co-sponsored by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky) in the Senate and Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.) in the House, which would allow marijuana businesses to claim the deductions and tax credits that other businesses enjoy.
The Responsibly Addressing the Marijuana Policy Gap Act would remove federal criminal penalties for businesses that are complying with state law, and offer an expunging process for certain marijuana-related violations, in addition to allowing veterans access to medical marijuana and protecting tribes from federal prosecution for marijuana violations.
Finally, the Marijuana Revenue and Regulation Act would de-schedule, tax and regulate marijuana. The bill's proposed excise tax would ramp up slowly, capping at a "top rate equal to 25 percent of the sales price," according to Wyden's office.
Does this all sound a bit familiar? It's probably because we've been here before. Wyden and Blumenauer have been attempting to bring equity to state law-abiding marijuana businesses at least as far back as 2013, and brought forth legislation attempting to give the federal government a cut of taxes during the 2015-2017 session. Those bills failed back then, and with a Republican-controlled Congress and Jeff Sessions now serving as attorney general, the climate for marijuana reform doesn't appear favorable today.
In the case of at least one of the bills, a Republican co-sponsor will certainly help. The effort to lean on a "state's rights" argument—a battle cry for many conservatives—could help, too. Still, the consensus even among marijuana business owners is that the bills are a long shot—even with the dangled carrot of a new revenue stream for the federal government, which it clearly needs.
While some business owners might balk at an additional tax foisted upon them, marijuana-related business owers seem, by and large, to support the notion of an additional federal tax. For one, the proposed tax rate would cap at 25 percent of the sale price—the same rate marijuana businesses were paying until January. If it meant access to traditional banking—and the prospect of getting bank financing to expand their businesses—marijuana businesses are in support of the efforts. Do those tax rates disproportionally target this industry? Probably. But when a business owner says she's in favor of the tax, that's her choosing the hard place, slightly softer than the rock.
Resolving the question of legitimacy in the eyes of the federal government would certainly help people in the cannabis industry sleep better at night. And when it comes down to it, isn't that what our legislators are supposed to be doing—helping their constituents solve the problems that stand in the way of their life, liberty and pursuit of happiness? While we won't hold our breath that these bills will move forward, we commend Wyden and Blumenauer for continuing to push for reform that's meaningful to Oregonians and Oregon businesses.