Democrats seek to give U.S. states say over marijuana, levy tax

Reuters Middle East

* Bills would regulate marijuana, impose federal tax

-lawmakers

* Effort follows legalization in Washington state, Colorado

WASHINGTON, Feb 5 (Reuters) - U.S. states would be free to

decide whether to legalize marijuana without running afoul of

federal law but would require purchasers to pay federal taxes on

its sale under legislation being proposed by two Democratic

lawmakers.

The proposed bills in the House of Representatives aim to

offer a new federal policy toward pot, amid a growing movement

to legalize it for personal use, whether recreational or

medical.

Representatives Earl Blumenauer of Oregon and Jared Polis of

Colorado, both Democrats, planned to introduce the legislation

on Tuesday.

One bill would end a federal ban on marijuana and give

states jurisdiction over its use and regulate it in a similar

way to alcohol sales, while the other would levy a federal tax,

the congressmen said in a statement.

The Democrats' bills likely face a hurdle in the House where

Republicans hold a majority and control what legislation moves

forward. A similar, bipartisan effort by other representatives

failed to gain traction in 2011.

Washington state and Colorado voted to legalize the drug in

2012 but now face questions on how to implement their laws while

U.S. authorities still consider pot illegal. Illinois is also

considering acting on the issue.

Eighteen states, including California and Oregon, plus the

nation's capital city already allow sales for medical use to

help certain patients cope with pain and other chronic

conditions, according to the National Conference of State

Legislatures, which tracks state laws.

Last year's votes have buoyed those who support easing

access to the drug, which U.S. health officials say is the most

commonly used illegal drug. Polls show most

Americans support legalizing pot.

Critics say that despite widespread use and acceptance, the

drug carries health risks, especially for youth. They question

whether the drug, derived from the cannabis plant and usually

smoked, has benefits for medical use.

Advocates on both sides of the issue are waiting anxiously

to see how federal authorities will act as Washington state and

Colorado move forward.

The U.S. Justice Department has yet to clarify its stance on

the issue, but President Barack Obama has said it does not make

sense for the federal government to focus on recreational drug

users in such states, given limited government resources and

growing public acceptance.

U.S. drug officials have classified marijuana as an illegal

drug with no accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse

since 1970.

(Editing by Howard Goller and Philip Barbara)

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