Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden is becoming an all-out supporter of protecting and promoting the legal marijuana industry and its consumers.
Wyden, the top Democrat on the powerful Senate Finance Committee, joined Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Oregon, and several other lawmakers in backing a series of pro-marijuana bills that were introduced Monday.
"What we're doing here is pulling together an approach that deals with all of the major problems we're hearing about," Wyden said in a conference call with Blumenauer from Washington, D.C., Thursday.
He cited "the problems faced by marijuana businesses, medical marijuana researchers, people legally consuming marijuana. With our bill, people won't be committing federal crimes if they follow state marijuana laws."
Wyden has defended Oregon's right to legalize marijuana ever since voters agreed to do so in 2014. In particular, he focused on seeking to remove federal restrictions preventing cannabis businesses from using banking services and deducting expenses from their taxes.
In this new package of bills, Wyden for the first time supports removing federal criminal penalties for all users, both recreational and medicinal.
He is also now in favor of completely removing marijuana from the federal list of controlled drugs. And for the first time, he backs establishing a federal tax on marijuana sales.
Wyden said a federal tax would help build congressional support for the industry.
Robert Capecchi, director of federal policies for the Marijuana Policy Project, said Wyden's support could be important for the legalization movement.
“Mr. Wyden’s a little more cautious on these issues than others," Capecchi said, "so having him come around and support this is a sign that this is not an issue that one has to be cautious about.”
The new legislative package also includes a bill that would remove the banking and tax deduction issues faced by marijuana businesses.
Blumenauer said he didn't expect the package of bills — which included several sponsors from both parties — would pass in this Congress. But the longtime advocate of legalization said he thought several provisions could make it into law this year.
The legislation — which supporters said is designed to "shrink the gap between federal and state marijuana policy" — comes as new Attorney General Jeff Sessions is reviewing the issue.
Sessions has expressed skepticism about marijuana and is looking at whether he will follow an Obama administration policy allowing states to proceed with retail sales.
"I think the signals to this point are reasonably positive" that the Trump administration won't try to stop marijuana sales in the seven states that have legalized recreational use, Blumenauer said. During the campaign, Trump said he would support states' rights on marijuana.
But until federal law is changed, Blumenauer said, he expects continued disputes with federal agencies over marijuana policy.