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Pot Legalization Bills Introduced, and Why Congress Will Not Legalize Pot

February 5, 2013 - by Donny Shaw

Public polling shows that a majority of Americans now support legalizing marijuana, but will Congress even consider taking pot off the banned substances list?

Today, two members of the House — Rep. Jared Polis [D, CO] and Rep. Earl Blumenauer [D, OR] — are introducing legislation to change the federal marijuana laws. Polis’ “Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act” would regulate marijuana like alcohol, and Blumenauer’s “Marijuana Tax Equity Act” would establish a federal marijuana taxation structure. The introduction of the bills is a first step, but it doesn’t mean that there is broader institutional interest in Congress for taking up the issue of legalizing pot.

There is one big reason why Congress is not likely to take this issue up: they don’t want to bother the corporations that they rely on for funding.

Marijuana is good medicine, which means that one of the biggest funders of both political parties — the pharmaceutical industry — wants to make sure the public does not have easy access to it. Drug companies could take a significant hit in profit if it was legal for people to grow their own natural alternatives to many of their pricey, habit-forming pills. Their plan to profit from the medicinal qualities of marijuana involves capturing regulators at the DEA and FDA, and winning special approval for selling drugs made from marijuana byproducts while keeping marijuana itself illegal for everyone else. 

Drug companies like Pfizer and Merck spend millions each election to boost the campaigns of candidates that support their interests. The pharmaceutical industry is so powerful in Washington D.C. that they consistently manage to get their way even if it means that Congress has to abandon major pieces of its stated policy goals. For example, during the 2009 health care reform debate, which was ostensibly about lowering the cost of health care, Democrats stripped several provisions from their bill that would have helped to lower pharmaceutical costs by allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices, legalizing drug re-importation, and streamlining the process for bringing generic drugs to the market. The pharmaceutical companies saw this is a hit to their business, and they struck a backroom deal with the Obama Administration to get it removed.

The Polis and Blumenauer marijuana bills will be referred to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, where they will almost certainly be ignored and left to die. Rep. Fred Upton [R, MI] is the chairman of the committee, and he controls what bills receive hearings and/or mark-ups. According to OpenSecrets, Upton received more money from the pharmaceutical industry in 2012 than any other member of the House, and he ranks sixth on the list of pharmaceutical money recipients for all members of the House ever.

There are industries that are supportive of marijuana legalization. Agriculture and tobacco, both major donors to both parties, reportedly have plans in place for making money if marijuana became legal. But Congress rarely takes up issues that pit one big funder against another. Generally, the issues that get broad support in Congress have universal support among the impacted industries that are major investors in politics, or the major-investor industries are indifferent or are willing to strategically concede on the issue. In matters where there is division among major investors, Congress tends to side with the status quo. The money is already pouring in, so why shake things up?

So, right now, just about everyone in Congress is saying that priority number one is reducing the deficit, and legalizing marijuana would bring in billions of new revenue (Blumenauer’s office estimates $20 billion annually) while eliminating a dangerous black market and improving public health. But it won’t happen — and the reason is that Congress’s real top priority is keeping the corporations that fund their campaigns happy.

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  • Paladinnh 02/05/2013 10:36pm

    It is an extremely sad state of affairs when the interests of “We the people” are subjugated by monied interests. If “We the people” don’t wake up and start paying attention there will be continued destruction of the America we all think we love. How did Corporate America become so powerful; and what are you going to do about it?

  • Comm_reply
    Abnaxus 02/15/2013 1:19pm

    I know. I keep wondering about propaganda and how easy it is to brainwash people if you start young (or with a religion). I really don’t know how changing the word BRIBE to LOBBY makes it all okay! All I can do is spread the word that we need to know who to vote out…and not just every 4 years. Vote every time you have the chance to get rid of anyone pushing lies. I talk to people every day to people who don’t have a clue as to what Anslinger and Nixon said about non whites and how they had to devise a system (DEA) to get rid of ‘certain’ citizens while ‘not appearing to’ target them! In their OWN WORDS! Most people who would post here have seen it….but just in case…. stash dot norml dot org and search for LA Times the racism of marijuana prohibition. The internet is the one thing that can help get the power back to the people…if only people would wake up and stop saying ‘it will never happen’ like a freaking mantra! Band together. Johnny Appleseed the place.

  • legalsales 02/06/2013 9:55am

    Legalizing marijuana pills while keeping natural marijuana illegal is as repugnant as legalizing vitamin-C pills while criminalizing oranges. It’s an insult to the American people!

    Marijuana is significantly milder, safer and less addictive than alcohol. We could prevent a lot of the harm that alcohol causes by letting people choose marijuana instead of alcohol. For the good of our children this is something we MUST do!

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    TammyMintonHaley 02/24/2013 9:30pm

    that is a perfect analogy, and i am going to use it…legalizing vitamin c, while outlawing oranges…even a child could see the logic…

  • mathiasthebold 02/06/2013 1:48pm

    Yes, Mr.Shaw, the deck is indeed stacked against the legalisation of marijuana. Even if you are wrong (which I don’t think you are) about one of the main facets of this stacked deck being the desire of the drug companies to hold a monopoly on the issuance of medicines utilizing the chemicals in marijuana, the other factor to consider is the social stigma that has been hammered into the brains of Americans over the past several decades. To most people, it isn’t looked upon as an unremarkable recreational activity that you may engage in. No, not at all. If you want to smoke marijuana in the comfort of your home, you are a DOPEHEAD. You are smoking DOPE. You are a second class citizen and a threat to the community. This is the mindset we who want to enjoy the plant responsibly must reckon with, and it is a damn shame.

  • meinla 02/06/2013 7:42pm

    Just further proof that no matter what the issue is we the people don’t stand a chance against the lobbyists.

  • brower 02/07/2013 9:52am

    This is just one more issue area in which the disproportionate influence of well vested groups hurts the public.

    Now, I agree, let’s push for the legalisation of marijuana. But as the piece details, big pharma won’t let it happen, and thus the root cause must be addressed too: the corruption of congress. One ongoing attempt to address this problem is the movement behind the American Anti-Corruption Act ( – we already have 325k co-sponsors), so if you agree this is an issue, please support this cause.

  • Comm_reply
    Abnaxus 02/15/2013 1:22pm

    Gonna check out the link now. I don’t understand why bribery/lobbying is legal in the so-called modern world. It should be outlawed.

  • Comm_reply
    Abnaxus 02/15/2013 1:26pm

    This site’s filters are weird. I just tried to post a simple reply that I would check out the anti-corruption site, and it rejected it as spam!

    I was just going to say that I don’t know why people accept bribes being re-labeled with the word lobbying! It should be outlawed. How would it NOT stack the deck in favor of one side?! Thank you for putting that info up.

  • Comm_reply
    TammyMintonHaley 02/24/2013 9:25pm

    this whole site is unnecessarily difficult…it needs to be simple for the masses, or the new “e-activist”, like me! i’ve read that most things the feds publish for the general use of the citizenry is geared toward about a 7th grade level…sad, but probably true…there’s those fabulous education budget cuts in action, but i digress…i like the idea of this site…i just found it today!

  • whatliesbeyond4u 02/12/2013 9:47am

    Funding from PHARMACEUTICAL LOBBYISTS IS NOT A LEGITIMATE REASON TO VOTE AGAINST A BILL! It shouldn’t even been a FEDERAL issue anyway. That is NOT part of the Constitution, and the 10th Amendment gives the STATES the right to do with anything NOT COVERED in the Constitution. It needs to be taken off. There are 2 states that have legalized it all together, and dozens more that have medical marijuana. It HAS been proven to help with many diseases including glaucoma, fibramyalghia, M.S. and dozens more!!! The pharmaceuticals are a bunch of mobsters trying to force people to take their nasty drugs legally. THAT is why we’re having so many problems with the youth going nuts. The companies are pushing bad meds through the process and risking OUR lives with them. IT NEEDS TO STOP! THAT IS NOT THEIR CALL. IT belongs to the states!

  • Croft 02/12/2013 2:54pm

    A few years ago, ANY marijuana reform seemed laughable, but now two states have legalized it. When people overwhelmingly agree to something, government MUST follow, or risk being replaced. Marijuana prohibition started in secrecy as a ploy by a few to get richer. Now, despite massive decriminalization efforts, almost a million of us each year are pulled into the criminal justice system over marijuana. Marijuana prohibition has caused far more suffering, deprivation, and dismay than open and unrestricted use of the plant ever could. What a waste of LIFE! We need hemp for paper (making paper from trees is poisoning the planet – dioxins). This one piece of legislation would give us hemp, even though it doesn’t mention it. There is no government without the people. There are no corporations without consumers. Don’t give up your power. Rise up. Let your opinion become an unstoppable fiat! Fight for the good! Overthrow the oppressors!

  • plasticonobrisco 02/12/2013 3:43pm

    Lobbyists are getting rich off of the war on marijuana:

  • onlycube 04/28/2013 4:27am

    I also support to legalizing marijuana in U.S.A. but i really surprise that why Congress is not likely to take this issue up?

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