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But many industry experts say they think the country has come too far to roll back legalization, especially since California’s voters just approved it in November.
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Oregon Rep. Earl Blumenauer and Sen. Ron Wyden stepped up efforts to protect legal marijuana Thursday, even as the nation’s attorney general has heavily criticized the drug.

The pair of Democrats announced sweeping federal bills including one to regulate the plant similarly to alcohol and tobacco and remove it from the schedule of controlled substances.

Marijuana sales have meant more than $65 million in tax revenue for their Pacific Northwestern, with lawmakers in Salem staring down an estimated $1.6 billion budget shortfall.

“What the two of us are here today to say is: Voters in Oregon and others states have chosen to legalize marijuana, and their votes shouldn’t just be casually thrown in the trash can by this administration,” Wyden said on press call with Blumenauer.

White House and U.S. Department of Justice spokespeople declined to comment directly on the congressmen’s moves Thursday, which come at a time when marijuana has garnered support nationally.

A poll released last month from Quinnipiac University saying 71 percent of voters didn’t want to see federal anti-marijuana laws enforced where recreational or medical use is legal.

Cannabis analytics firm New Frontier Data expects the national legal marijuana market to grow to more than $24 billion by 2025. The Washington, D.C.-based firm projects Oregon’s recreational marijuana market will be worth roughly $502 million by the end of this year and about $827 million by the end of 2025.

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has telegraphed opposition to legal weed, yet despite his condemnation of the crop, Department of Justice officials are for the time being still running by an Obama Administration-era memo issued by then-Deputy Attorney General James Cole outlining the department’s tack for dealing with marijuana.

“The department’s current policy remains the 2013 Cole Memo,” a Department of Justice spokesman said. “The Attorney General has made several comments expressing his personal views on the issue.”

Wyden on Thursday criticized Sessions, saying, “I’m particularly concerned because it appears that the attorney general wants to cherry pick, apparently on the basis of some kind of whim, which states’ rights he likes and which ones he doesn’t like.”

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Sen. Ron Wyden (Photo: Statesman Journal file)

The White House kicked up anxiety in February when Press Secretary Sean Spicer alluded to “greater enforcement” of federal marijuana laws, excepting medical marijuana. Asked about the executive branch’s general take on marijuana reform Thursday, a White House spokeswoman said, “I have nothing to add beyond Sean’s comments.”

The legalization movement has opponents, with one of them being anti-legalization group Smart Approaches to Marijuana.

“While we don’t want to see folks locked up or given criminal records for smoking pot, we support federal laws against marijuana,” SAM President Kevin Sabet said Thursday in a statement. “It’s time to end, not expand the special interest big marijuana lobby. They’d like us to ignore the fact that today’s legalized marijuana – and the accompanying industry – is damaging to public health.”

Marijuana advocates praised the congressmen’s moves. People around the nation who voted in cannabis laws ought to be respected, said Derek Peterson, Chief Executive of marijuana-focused agriculture company Terra Tech Corp. “Reforms to the banking laws will help bring even more transparency and oversight to the legal cannabis industry by discouraging grey and black market activity,” he said in a statement.

A portion of the “Path to Marijuana Reform” announced Thursday targets expense deductions for marijuana businesses.

“The real problems for the thousands of state-legal marijuana businesses, whether they’re adult (use) or medical, is that they can’t deduct their business expenses, and it’s very hard for them to get banking services,” Blumenauer said in an interview. “It really is a choke point.”

In addition, Blumenauer is co-sponsoring the Respect State Marijuana Laws Act of 2017, along with a bipartisan mix of more than a dozen House lawmakers, which would change the Controlled Substances Act so that people who use marijuana within state laws aren’t punished.

Blumenauer is also set to reintroduce an amendment with Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., that would shield medical marijuana from a federal crackdown where it is legal.

That would follow the initial passage years ago of the Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment — named for Rohrabacher and then-Rep. Sam Farr, D-Calif. Blumenauer is essentially taking Farr’s place on the amendment, though timelines on its reintroduction are still unclear.

MORE MARIJUANA COVERAGE: White House signals “greater enforcement” on recreational pot | Oregon pot revenue continues to decline | Lawmaker wants to restrict sales of pot paraphernalia

Rohrabacher “plans to reintroduce it, but the congressional calendar may move it beyond April,” a spokesman for the California Republican said. “He seems to want to deal with recreational use separately.”

Rohrabacher and Blumenauer are members of a bipartisan Congressional Cannabis Caucus announced this year, which includes Reps. Jared Polis, D-Colo., and Don Young, R-Ala.

Federal lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have piled on to support marijuana legislation: Freshman Rep. Thomas Garrett, Jr., R-Va., introduced the Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2017. The four cannabis caucus members have co-sponsored the bill that aims to strike marijuana from the schedule of controlled substances.

Polis, the Colorado Democrat, is sponsoring the “Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act,” which he says would finish federal prohibition of weed.

“The law nationally, is out of date,” he said in an interview where he called his bill a “long-term fix.”

“There’s still a national interest in keeping (marijuana) out of the hands of minors,” Polis said. He wants to make sure the bill doesn’t make marijuana legal where people haven’t voted it in, removing “that shadow of uncertainty.”

As a more temporary fix, Polis also plans to reintroduce an amendment that would stop the Department of Justice from spending money to interfere with state marijuana laws if and when the Commerce, Justice, Science appropriations bill — which affects the Department of Justice — goes to the floor.

“I’m confident we have the votes to pass it,” Polis said.

The House of Representatives narrowly rejected this so-called McClintock-Polis Amendment in 2015. But for Polis, the key change is a lot of states have legalized marijuana since then, and many congressmen want to make sure the federal government isn’t interfering with state laws.

Send questions, comments or news tips to jbach@statesmanjournal.com or 503-399-6714. Follow him on Twitter @JonathanMBach. 

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