Bipartisan Bill To Protect States With Legalized Marijuana Gains Traction

By Paul Gaita 06/13/18

The bill would allow states to determine "the best approach to marijuana within [their own] borders."

Senators Elizabeth Warren and Cory Gardner introducing the bill
Senators Elizabeth Warren and Cory Gardner introducing the bill Photo via YouTube

Though Attorney General Jeff Sessions continues to wage war against marijuana, President Donald Trump has said that he is willing to support bipartisan legislation that would allow states to determine their own rules regarding the legalization and regulation of marijuana.

The bill was introduced by Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Cory Gardner (R-CO), who, as High Times noted, have taken distinctly opposite stances regarding marijuana in their respective states. But the pair has united over federal cannabis prohibition, which they view as impugning on not only states' rights to determine their own laws, but also the legal cannabis industry's ability to access safe banking and insurance.

Their efforts appear to have earned a positive response from Trump, who told reporters that he would "probably" support the bill.

The bill, called the Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States, or STATES Act, would allow individual states, Washington, D.C., U.S. territories and federally recognized tribes to determine for themselves "the best approach to marijuana within [their own] borders."

This would be accomplished by amending the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) so that those states or tribes that comply with basic protection would be considered exempt from federal law regarding the "manufacture, production, possession, dispensation, administration, or delivery of marijuana."

The STATES Act would also remove industrial hemp from the CSA, and would implement several "common-sense guardrails" to ensure that states continue to regulate marijuana in a "safe and respectful manner" that is compliant with federal standards. These include prohibiting individuals under the age of 18 to work in marijuana operations and preventing sale or distribution of marijuana to individuals under the age of 21 for reasons other than medical purposes.

Additionally, and most crucially for legal cannabis business, the bill would allow federally insured banks to do business with such entities.

In a statement, Senator Warren wrote, "The federal government needs to get out of the business of outlawing marijuana." She added that current federal laws have negatively impacted the criminal justice system, scientific research and economic development, while states like Massachusetts have implemented commonsense marijuana legislation that has supported these categories. "They have the right to enforce their own marijuana policies," she wrote.

Senator Gardner took similar aim at government policies in his statement while focusing his argument on states' rights issues.

"The federal government is closing its eyes and plugging its ears while 46 states have acted," he wrote. "The bipartisan, commonsense bill ensures the federal government will respect the will of the voters—whether that is legalization or prohibition—and not interfere in an states' legal marijuana industry."

At a press conference on June 6, President Trump said that he knew "exactly what [Senator Gardner's] doing," and "probably will end up supporting" the STATES Act.

Given Trump's penchant for spur-of-the-moment decisions that often take his cabinet and party by surprise, it remains unclear whether he will ultimately voice approval for the bill, but the statement flies in the face of Attorney General Sessions' stance on marijuana, which was crystallized in a January 2018 memo granting federal prosecutors the "necessary tools" to crack down on cannabis.

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.