Proposed laws would address fiscal and legal issues
By Summit Voice
SUMMIT COUNTY — Congress may try to untangle some of the fiscal and legal issues associated with the burgeoning medical marijuana industry in Colorado and other states in a bipartisan way, with three new laws introduced May 25 by Congressman Pete Stark (D-CA), Congressman Barney Frank (D-MA), and Congressman Jared Polis (D-CO).
Two of the laws address financial inequities, while the third, the States’ Medical Marijuana Patient Protection Act, would shield individuals and entities from federal prosecution when acting in compliance with state medical marijuana laws.
Rep. Polis introduced the Small Business Banking Improvement Act, which is cosponsored by Stark, Frank and Paul. It would ensure that medical marijuana businesses that are state-certified have full access to banking services by amending the Bank Secrecy Act.
“When a small business, such as a medical marijuana dispensary, can’t access basic banking services they either have to become cash-only — and become targets of crime — or they’ll end up out-of-business,” said Polis. “In states that have legalized medical marijuana, and for businesses that have been state-approved, it is simply wrong for the federal government to intrude and threaten banks that are involved in legal transactions.”
A press release from Polis says the three bills are a sign that there is growing bipartisan Congressional support for reforming the nation’s drug laws.
Stark’s bill – the Small Business Tax Equity Act – would allow medical marijuana dispensaries to take the full range of business expense deductions on their federal tax returns, just like every other legal business is permitted to do under the law. It is co-sponsored by Congressman Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) and Congressman Ron Paul (R-TX), as well as Frank and Polis.
“Our tax code undercuts legal medical marijuana dispensaries by preventing them from taking all the deductions allowed for other small businesses,” Stark stated. “While unfair to these small business owners, the tax code also punishes the patients who rely on them for safe and reliable access to medical marijuana prescribed by a doctor. The Small Business Tax Equity Act would correct these shortcomings.”
The States’ Medical Marijuana Patient Protection Act, authored by Frank and co-sponsored by Stark, Polis and Rohrabacher, would make individuals and entities immune to federal prosecution when acting in compliance with state medical marijuana laws. It would also direct the administration to initiate the process of rescheduling marijuana under the Controlled Substances Act so that it is placed in a schedule other than Schedules I or II.
“The time has come for the federal government to stop preempting states’ medical marijuana laws,” Frank said. “For the federal government to come in and supersede state law is a real mistake for those in pain for whom nothing else seems to work. This bill would block the federal prosecution of those patients who reside in those states that allow medical marijuana.”
Most the proposed legislation got a thumbs-up from Kathleen Chippi, of the Nederland-based Patient and Caregiver Rights Litigation Project.
Chippi said that John Walsh, the U.S. attorney for Colorado, recently once again threatened medical marijuana prosecutions based on federal law. The States’ Medical Marijuana Patient Protection Act would help clear up years of uncertainty over the primacy of state or federal drug laws.
But Chippi said she is concerned that reclassifying marijuana as a Schedule II or Schedule III controlled substance is the first toward a power grab by the pharmaceutical industry.
The bills also set up an interesting political dynamic, with states’ rights, personal privacy and social attitudes about medical marijuana all figuring into the equation.