Pete Stark, others offer medical marijuana bills

House members including Rep. Pete Stark introduced a trio of bills today that would afford new protections for medical marijuana providers and users.

marijuana moneyStark, D-Fremont, introduced H.R. 1985, the Small Business Tax Equity Act of 2011, which would let medical marijuana dispensaries deduct business expenses from their federal taxes like any other organization or business. Among the bill’s original cosponsors are Dana Rohrabacher, R-Huntington Beach, and Ron Paul, R-Texas.

“Our tax code undercuts legal medical marijuana dispensaries by preventing them from taking all the deductions allowed for other small businesses,” Stark said. “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.”

Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., introduced H.R. 1983, the States’ Medical Marijuana Patient Protection Act of 2011, which would explicitly exempt people in compliance with their state medical marijuana law from federal arrest and prosecution. The bill also would direct the administration to start the process of “rescheduling” marijuana, moving it off the Controlled Substances Act’s list of most-restricted drugs.

“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,” Frank said. “This bill would block the federal prosecution of those patients who reside in those states that allow medical marijuana.”

And Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo., introduced H.R. 1984, the Small Business Banking Improvement Act of 2011, which would protect banks that accept deposits from medical marijuana dispensaries from federal fines or seizures. Stark and Paul cosponsored this bill.

“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,” Polis said. “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.”

Bill Piper, the Drug Policy Alliance’s director of national affairs, said the Justice Department “thinks it can bully not just state elected officials but also patients and those who provide for them. Members of Congress need to stand up for patients and the will of the American people and push back against this federal overreach.”

The alliance and other medical marijuana advocates note President Obama during his 2008 campaign said he would end the Bush Administration’s policy of attacking state medical marijuana programs, and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said shortly after taking office that he agreed with Obama’s position. The U.S. Justice Department in 2009 sent U.S. Attorneys across the nation a letter directing that they “should not focus federal resources in [their] States on individuals in clear and unambiguous compliance with state laws providing for the medical use of marijuana.”

Yet the Drug Enforcement Administration, still headed by Bush-appointee Michele Leonhart, has continued to raid medical marijuana providers, they argue, and federal prosecutors in recent months have begun sending intimidating letters to state elected officials in a number of states that either have or are considering state-licensed medical marijuana distribution systems.

“The Department of Justice’s new policy is forcing the public and patients to deal with a chaotic, unregulated medical marijuana market,” Drug Police Alliance staff attorney Tamar Todd said. “It is beyond question that states want to and have the right to legalize medical marijuana under state law. The question now is whether states should be able to implement medical marijuana programs consistent with the needs of patients and of public safety and health. The legislation introduced today would allow states to implement reasonable, responsible regulations.”

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.