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Federal bill legalizing marijuana could harm nation’s youth

Posted on 05-04-16 in Addiction, Advocacy, Substance Abuse

Federal bill legalizing marijuana could harm nation’s youth

Should marijuana be regulated like tobacco and alcohol products? There are positive and negatives that can result from federally declassifying a controlled substance. A bill introduced last year would eliminate marijuana as a controlled substance, as a dangerous drug and as a drug targeted by youth anti-drug campaigns. The ability to regulate marijuana would be beneficial for granting states the right to distribute, tax and regulate the use of marijuana in a similar way as they do with alcohol and tobacco. Federally decriminalizing marijuana would undoubtedly grant the states the right to tax and regulate marijuana, which could have a positive impact on state revenues as seen in Colorado, where the use of recreational cannabis has been legalized for persons over 21 years of age.

At the same time, the high taxation of marijuana and strict state marijuana regulations may promote the use of illegal marijuana purchased from the black market and further contribute to the growing substance abuse and addiction problem in the U.S. More people could face negative health consequences resulting from the widespread availability of highly potent cannabis products. Legalizing marijuana on the federal level could in fact have numerous unintentional and unforeseen consequences on the growth and development of our nation’s youth.

State vs. federal regulation of marijuana

Since 1996, 24 states and Washington, D.C., have passed laws legalizing the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes, while four states — including Colorado, Oregon, Washington and Alaska — have passed initiatives legalizing the sale and distribution of marijuana for both medical and recreational purposes for adults 21 and older under state law. Colorado was the first state to take recreational marijuana off the controlled substances list and allow the sale of recreational marijuana, which began on Jan. 1, 2014.

Licensed and regulated marijuana stores in Colorado sold more than $699 million in cannabis in 2014 and nearly $1 billion (or about $996 million) worth of recreational and medical cannabis in 2015, according to the state Department of Revenue. Purchasing retail marijuana is subject to a 2.9 percent state sales tax, any local sales taxes and a 10 percent state marijuana sales tax, while retail marijuana is subject to a 15 percent state marijuana excise tax rate. As a result, Colorado collected $76 million for taxes and license fees in 2014, which grew to more than $135 million in marijuana taxes and fees in 2015.

Despite several states having passed initiatives legalizing the sale and distribution of marijuana, cannabis remains a federal offense and continues to be illegal under federal law. Marijuana is federally classified as a Schedule I controlled substance (like heroin) and considered to be a substance that has a high potential for abuse, has no currently accepted medical use in treatment and lacks accepted safety for use under medical supervision, according to the Federal Drug Administration (FDA).

HR 1013: Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act

On Feb. 20, 2015, Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo., introduced in the House of Representatives the H.R. 1013 bill, which would give states the authority to regulate marijuana just like alcohol and tobacco. HR 1013 — the Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act — aims to allow states to begin legally taxing marijuana like alcohol as well as place regulatory guidelines on the distribution, possession and use of marijuana.

HR 1013 would decriminalize marijuana at the federal level by legalizing the use, possession and sale of recreational and medical marijuana across the country and remove all criminal penalties associated with its use and possession. The Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act directs the Attorney General to issue a final order that removes marijuana in any form from the list of federally controlled substances, including its classification as a Schedule I drug, under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA). Marijuana would be regulated by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives rather than the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) as it is now. The definition of felony drug offense would exclude conduct relating to marijuana, and marijuana would be treated under guidelines of “intoxicating liquor” just like alcohol.

The HR 1013 also eliminates marijuana as:

  • A controlled substance
  • A dangerous drug for federal criminal code provisions
  • A targeted drug for provisions of the national youth anti-drug media campaign

With the rising rates of adolescent marijuana use and the increasing knowledge about the harms of cannabis use on the brain, do we want to stop targeting marijuana use in schools or in anti-drug campaigns? The new bill introduced last year would decriminalize marijuana on a federal level and give states the power to decide how to regulate, distribute and tax marijuana like alcohol, tobacco and other products. Although the bill has been introduced, it is awaiting a proper vote in the House before entering the Senate and has yet to be discussed.

The Sovereign Health Group offers individualized and comprehensive behavioral health treatment services to patients with substance use problems such as marijuana abuse and dependence. In addition, we offer evidence-based treatment programs for mental illness and co-occurring disorders. To find out more about Sovereign Health’s treatment programs for marijuana use problems, please contact our 24/7 helpline to speak to a member of our team.

About the author

Amanda Habermann is a writer for the Sovereign Health Group. A graduate of California Lutheran University, she received her M.S. in clinical psychology with an emphasis in psychiatric rehabilitation. She brings to the team her background in research, testing and assessment, diagnosis and recovery techniques. For more information and other inquiries about this article, contact the author at