Under terms of HR 420, federally legalized marijuana would be taken away from the DEA and reassigned under the auspices of the ATF overseen by the Department of Justice.
Three of the current Democratic choices for president — Pete Buttigieg, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders — claim that, if elected, they will legalize marijuana at the federal level. This would not just be rescheduling it, but completely taking if off the Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) list of controlled substances.
While the possibility of that actually happening is left to major speculation (not just about a Democratic candidate winning the election, but following their pre-election claims), an idea of what federally legalized marijuana might look like has been offered for Congressional consideration by one of the longest supporters of cannabis legalization, Congressman Earl Blumenauer (OR-03), founder and co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus.
Blumenauer introduced a bill January 19, 2019 — the Regulate Marijuana like Alcohol Act, or HR 420 — that provides a new framework for handling legalized marijuana within an old federal bureaucracy.
“While the bill number may be a bit tongue-in-cheek, the issue is very serious,” Blumenauer said at the time.
Under terms of HR 420, federally legalized marijuana would be taken away from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and reassigned under the auspices of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) overseen by the Department of Justice. The bureau would be renamed the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Marijuana, Firearms and Explosives (ATMF).
Neither that bill, nor a Senate version, the Marijuana Revenue and Regulation Act introduced a month later, have gained any traction in Congress over the last year.
Putting marijuana together with tobacco and alcohol in this way appears like a sort of logical convergence—tobacco and alcohol and marijuana, all vices of choice, managed in the same federal bureaucracy that is not under the control of the DEA.
Beyond what could or should happen in Congress is the uneasy feeling that many in the cannabis industry have about federal agents enforcing a new set of rules and regulations — especially the ATF, that has a history of issues with the public trust, and a few incidents of going overboard (think Waco).
Cozying up to a group like this doesn’t seem in the best interests of an industry looking for relief from a gateway drug stigma promoted, in part, by law enforcement reacting to misinformation.
ATF’s Special Response Team using military-style “superior tactical operational proficiencies and specialized equipment” have busted into homes in the past where small amounts of illegal cannabis were being grown or sold, and sometimes became the operative force that split up families and otherwise destroyed lives.
And it would seem a bit of a stretch to convince this bureau that what it considers an addictive substance illegal on both a federal and state level right now, according to an open letter from the ATF in 2011, could one day soon be treated as legal as a pack of cigarettes.
But…there is another side to the equation.
When you read about grow and cultivation operations like the 160-acre, 3 million square foot Coachillin Industrial Cultivation and Ancillary Canna-Business Park being built in Desert Hot Springs, California, secured by armed U.S. military veterans that would give any cartel bad guy a momentary pause, there’s some inkling that stronger measures may be needed to keep the business of a valuable cash crop humming. And those measures to properly manage public safety just may need to come from the resources of a government bureaucracy like the ATF. Shouldn’t they?