WASHINGTON -- A bipartisan bill introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives this week looks to use research to better understand what impact legalizing marijuana is having on various communities.
- Bill introduced this week calls for marijuana community study
- Bipartisan bill directs National Academy of Sciences to study the impact of legalizing marijuana
- READ: Marijuana Data Collection Act | Bill Text (.PDF)
"Our bill would authorize a non-partisan, evidence-based report that analyzes current marijuana policies across the country and their effects on our communities," said Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, a Democrat from Hawaii who sponsored the legislation.
Among the co-sponsors are Republicans like Florida Reps. Carlos Curbelo and Matt Gaetz, and Democrats like Texas Rep. Beto O'Rourke and Florida Reps. Darren Soto and Charlie Crist.
The bill would call for a 10-year arrangement with the National Academy of Sciences to study states that have legalized marijuana programs for the impact on the economy, public health, criminal justice and employment.
The study is meant to look at yearly rates and trends on issues such as:
- Revenue and taxes and how they help state budgets
- The use of medical marijuana in different populations (children, elderly, veterans, etc.)
- The rates of overdoses in those states from opioids and other painkillers (some studies show marijuana use impacts opioid use)
- The rates of arrests related to marijuana, including teenage use, unlawful driving, etc.
- The amount of jobs created, directly and indirectly
- The amount of jobs expected to be created
Currently, 31 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and Guam have legalized medical marijuana. Eight states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for adult recreational use.
Opposition questions bill's intent
But beyond a shared desire for more research, opposing sides still disagree on the bill’s intent.
"It's very evident that it was written by people who very highly favor legalization and think it's a foregone conclusion," said Will Jones, a communications and outreach associate for Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM).
"We're simply looking at the impact that legalization has on the economy, on crime rates, on housing prices, on everything that it could possibly have an impact on. I'm not sure how that is biased," said Erik Altieri, executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), which worked to create the bill.
Jones said his organization doesn't think smoking weed should send you to jail, but they do think legalizing it would create a commercial industry backed by the law that could take advantage of vulnerable users.
But Altieri said proper oversight, through research and legalization, is exactly what's needed to embrace marijuana more responsibly.
The Marijuana Data Collection Act is one of some 65 bills in the House and Senate that looks to reform how marijuana is handled in America.
More states are deciding on their own to legalize or not, but the national debate continues over whether cannabis should still be treated like an equivalent to cocaine.
"To say that industry is the answer to that, we think that's another extreme," Jones said.
"As long as you don't provide a legal, regulated outlet, there will be people that will take advantage of that situation," Altieri said.
Marijuana advocates also want the drug to be removed from the Controlled Substances Act, which places restrictions on top tier drugs.
But opponents, like Attorney General Jeff Sessions, think it should stay.