Why the federal government won’t legalize marijuana soon

A friend who advocates for social equity in handling cannabis profits said on a webinar yesterday that federal legalization needs more time – so don’t rush it.  We don’t know how to protect social equity licensees, for one thing.

And Ulrik Boesen of the Tax Foundation has a bunch of questions, like these:

“How does the federal government design an excise tax for this complex market without disrupting state markets? How can federal and state testing and product safety requirements be aligned, considering how much these differ state by state?”

We do indeed need more time.  

To figure out how to reinstitute alcohol taxes after a lapse during Prohibition, Congress devoted four fill days of joint hearings to liquor taxes alone in December 1933.  Unlike with hemp drugs, we had already had lots of experience taxing liquor.  But Congress studied it thoroughly anyway.

Those four days covered no regulatory issues, which were left to the states.  There was input from staff, the executive branch, academics, and interested private parties (once known as special interests, now known as stakeholders).  The Ways & Means and Finance Committees reported out a bill in short order, and President Roosevelt signed it in January.  On that Committee were a future Supreme Court Justice (Vinson), a future Speaker of the House (McCormack), and a future Vice President (Barkley). Report to the Secretary of the Treasury of Findings of Fact and Law of the Informal Interdepartmental Committee Relative to Taxation and Control of Alcoholic Beverages, Supplement to Tax on Intoxicating Liquor, Joint Hearings Before the Committee on Ways and Means, House of Representatives and the Committee on Finance, United States Senate, 73d Congress, Interim, 1st and 2d Sessions, Dec. 11-14, 1933, at 309.  

That kind of scholarly and expeditious work might well help politicians today, where we see a lot of posturing, and little legislating.


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