It seems like every year, the old pot guard in Congress tries its hand at some form of marijuana legalization. Although these sorts of actions attract headlines (and votes?), they never seem to go anywhere. But for the first time ever, a real and legitimate bipartisan “respect states’ rights” effort is being pushed by some powerful members of Congress. Specifically, Republican Senator Cory Gardner is picking up the mantle for Congressional cannabis reform and it may actually pass this time (if the MFOA doesn’t get there first).
On June 7th, Senators Gardner and Elizabeth Warren released a bipartisan marijuana bill that would explicitly allow states to determine the fate of marijuana in their own jurisdictions. Here’s a copy of the bill, entitled the “Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States Act” (“STATES Act”). Most importantly (and wisely, if anyone wants this bill to go anywhere), it doesn’t change the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) on cannabis scheduling and so even if it passes, cannabis will remain a Schedule I controlled substance. But it will mean the CSA will be amended to give each state the freedom to determine how best to address commercial cannabis activity within its own borders, state-approved commercial cannabis activity will cease to be considered drug trafficking, and proceeds from and assets used in legal cannabis operations would not be subject to forfeiture by the Department of Justice (DOJ).
If the bill passes, the CSA would not apply to:
[A]ny person acting in compliance with State law relating to the manufacture, production, possession, distribution, dispensation, administration, or delivery of marihuana . . . any person acting in compliance with the law of a Federally recognized Indian tribe within its jurisdiction in Indian Country . . . related to the manufacture, production, possession, distribution, dispensation, administration, or delivery of marihuana so long as such jurisdiction is located within a state that permits, respectively, manufacture, production, possession, distribution, dispensation, administration, or delivery of marihuana.
State-legal marijuana businesses would still be in trouble under the CSA for employing anyone “under 18 years of age to manufacture, produce, distribute, dispense, administer, or deliver marihuana.’’ This bill will also remove industrial hemp from the CSA, which would finally square away its precarious legal status regarding its derivative products, like CBD.
Though the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer Amendment prevents the DOJ from interfering with a state’s right to implement medical cannabis laws and regulations, the STATES Act would make it illegal for the Department of Justice to enforce the CSA against state-legal marijuana users or medical or recreational marijuana businesses. Passage of this bill would obviously be a huge, huge step forward for marijuana legalization. This bill would lead to improvements in the banking situation for cannabis businesses and realizing this, some bank are lobbying for cannabis reform to be able to better serve the cannabis industry. Passage will also mean state-legal cannabis businesses can finally secure federally protected trademarks and avail themselves of other federal protections and benefits currently denied to them, including nondiscriminatory tax treatment.
Ironically, the one person we may deserve the most thanks for this big move is Attorney General Jeff Sessions who — as we all know — loathes cannabis. His blitzkrieg to undo state progress on cannabis law reform is backfiring. I previously wrote how Senator Gardner was so irritated by Sessions’s rescinding the 2013 Cole Memo that he took it upon himself to block numerous DOJ appointments. This got President Trump’s attention and led Gardner to receive, according to The Washington Post, “a commitment from the President that the Department of Justice’s rescission of the Cole memo will not impact Colorado’s legal marijuana industry . . . Furthermore, President Trump . . . assured [Gardner] that he will support a federalism-based legislative solution to fix this states’ rights issue once and for all.” And Trump echoed on June 8th that he’d “probably” support the STATES Act.
The STATES Act is a bipartisan bill that does not outright legalize marijuana or even re-schedule or decriminalize it. Couple this with President Trump’s strong dislike of Sessions anyway and it does very much look as though the political stars may finally be aligned to see meaningful marijuana law reform at the Congressional level.
Editor’s Note: A version of this post originally appeared in an Above the Law column, also by Hilary Bricken.