Marijuana

Will Congress Finally Protect State-Legal Pot Businesses From the Feds?

A bill introduced Thursday with bipartisan support in both chambers of Congress would stop federal law enforcement from targeting states with legal weed.

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Yuri Gripas/REUTERS/Newscom

Until the federal government gets around to ending marijuana prohibition once and for all, the least it could do is stay out of the way of states that have already legalized weed.

That's the idea behind a bipartisan bill introduced Thursday in both houses of Congress. The Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States (STATES) Act would amend the federal Controlled Substances Act to prevent federal law enforcement from taking action against people and businesses in states that have legalized marijuana. That's less helpful than full-fledged federal legalization would be, but it would be both an acknowledgment that states are in the clear when it comes to setting marijuana policy and an important legal shield for the growing number of legal marijuana users and businesses across the country.

Sens. Cory Gardner (R–Colo.) and Elizabeth Warren (D–Mass.) teamed up to introduce the Senate version of the STATES Act. In the House, the bill has a number of cosponsors on both sides of the aisle, including Earl Blumenauer (D–Ore.), David Joyce (R–Ohio), and Barbara Lee (D–Calif.).

"The current federal policy interferes with the ability of states to implement their own cannabis laws, and the resulting system has stifled important medical research, hurt legitimate businesses and diverted critical law enforcement resources needed elsewhere," Joyce says in a statement. Blumenauer echoes that sentiment in a separate statement, saying that outdated federal marijuana laws "have ruined lives, devastated communities, and wasted resources for critical medical treatment and research."

"It's time for Congress to catch up with the rest of America are and fix a badly broken system," he adds.

Indeed, Congress is lagging farther behind public opinion on marijuana, which has shifted decisively towards ending pot prohibition. According to the Gallup poll, two-thirds of Americans think marijuana should be legal for recreational use; support for medical marijuana hit 93 percent in a Quinnipiac University poll last year.

"The majority of states now regulate either the medical use or the adult use of marijuana. It is time for the federal government to cease standing in the way of these voter-backed regulatory policies being implemented throughout the country," says Justin Strekal, political director for NORML, which advocates for marijuana legalization, in a statement.

More than 200,000 Americans are now working full-time in state-legal marijuana businesses in 33 states with legal medical marijuana and 10 states where recreational weed is legal. The STATES Act would allow those businesses to access banking systems without being in danger of running afoul of federal money laundering laws.

The bill "would immediately improve public safety and the local economies within the states in which the cannabis industry operates," says Neal Levine, CEO of the Cannabis Trade Federation. "It would protect the freedom and livelihood of the hundreds of thousands of Americans working in the legal cannabis industry today."

During the last session of Congress, the same bill garnered 11 cosponsors in the Senate and more than 40 in the House. It also received vocal support from governors in a number of states with legal weed. Last June, President Donald Trump told reporters he would "probably" end up supporting the bill if it reached his desk. Ironically, lawmakers were compelled to draw up the legislation in the first place because Trump's first attorney general, Jeff Sessions, signalled an intention to crack down on state-legal weed businesses (though that crackdown thankfully never materialized).

Despite that support, the bill never received a vote in either chamber during 2018. Gardner attempted to include it as an amendment to the FIRST STEP Act, the major criminal justice reform that passed Congress late last year, but he was unsuccessful.

"If we can get a vote on it, I feel very confident we can get it passed," Gardner told The Denver Post in December.

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31 responses to “Will Congress Finally Protect State-Legal Pot Businesses From the Feds?

  1. …the least it could do is stay out of the way of states that have already legalized weed.

    The great thing about authoritarians and prohibitionists is that they never do the least they’ve authorized themselves to do.

    1. We’re ALL authoritarians and prohibitionists to some degree. It’s just a matter of who’s authority one bows to.

      1. Prohibition against murder and theft seem pretty desirable.

      2. sometimes I don’t let the cat out.

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  2. The law needs to be changed. It is a terrible precedent to just expect the exectutive to stop enforcing federal law. Congress either needs to change this law or DOJ needs to start enforcing the laws on the books.

    1. This. Celebrating the addition of ever more layers of law instead of just getting to the heart of the matter is not libertarian. We would all be better served if Gardner, Warren, Blumenauer, Joyce, and Lee would spend their time repealing federal laws governing marijuana. But they don’t actually want to do that, they want you to thank them for their choosing to grant you permission to sort of avoid the law.

      1. Unless those critters are your critters, then they really shouldn’t give a shit about serving your interests ahead of their constituents interests. And trying to legalize pot everywhere while letting their own constituents twist in the wind until that happens would be just that.

        You want pot legalized everywhere, then get your critter to spend their political capital on that.

        1. Federalism is hard… We need more centralized government, that will insure freedom. /Sarc

    2. They NEED to address the broken “Substance Regulation Schedules” or whateverthefuck they call it. Change the procedures for assessing the dangers and potential benefits of substances and take the opportunity to re-assign current unrealistic assessments. Also to allow for the regulation or even prohibition of some substances that are being researched for beneficial applications, and a procedure to move substances from one category to another.

      (Inner Me: Yeah, like Congress is going to undertake actual work like that.)

  3. How will the amended statute be phrased? Is it going to be the same as before, but with an addition that says, “Notwithstanding [what this title says otherwise]….”? Or is it going to amend all references to cannabis to say, “in states and territories where….”? Or something else?

    1. Like maybe what’s implied by the article, that all the existing language stays intact, & has added an amendment that says, “None of the provisions of this title respecting marijuana shall be enforced where…”?

    2. (a) Notwithstanding any other provision of law, the provisions of this title as applied to marihuana, other than the provisions described in subsection (c) and other than as provided in subsection (d), shall not apply to any person acting in compliance with State law relating to the manufacture, production, possession, distribution, dispensation, administration, or delivery of marihuana.

      1. That’s funny, I thought the bill was about marijuana. /sarc

  4. Considering what a tiny fraction of enforcement of these laws takes place at the federal level, why not just repeal the federal laws re cannabis, leaving states to prohibit what they will? Nah, too simple & straightforward.

    1. Not to mention constitutional – – – –

  5. Well, duh. Of course “fauxcahontas” would introduce a bill legalizing the “peace pipe”.

  6. >>>The STATES Act would allow those businesses to access banking systems without being in danger of running afoul of federal money laundering laws.

    >>>”It would protect the freedom and livelihood of the hundreds of thousands of Americans working in the legal cannabis industry today.”

    access to banking systems = protected freedom?

    1. Yes. When you can’t pay your employees except in cash – and you have to keep the business’ entire balance sheet in cash in a safe on-premises; then that is a massive infringement on the ability of a legal business to operate. Banks have been given a monopoly by the federal govt to be the sole distributor of govt-defined currency (dollars). Even that cash is technically only a Federal Reserve note (not a Treasury note) – that cannot be deposited in a Federal Reserve institution.

      Take that monopoly away from banks (which is imo the best approach long-term – via maybe a post office bank with its own settlement system that doesn’t involve FR banks at all) – or change the law so that legal businesses can use the unit-of-account that the Constitution itself says is the exclusive purview of the federal govt.

      1. >>>Take that monopoly away from banks (which is imo the best approach long-term …

        better stated than my implication. feds have just as much control over the industry through Treasury as they do though Justice … freedom is slavery

  7. Or maybe just require the DOJ to follow the law and take marijuana off schedule one? To be on schedule one a substance must not have any medical use. I guess this is just more prosecutorial discretion?

    1. Don’t you know the path to tyranny starts with forcing the government to live by it’s own rules? Next you’ll be stating this is a matter best left to the states then to an all knowing central government. You neo-Confederate, alt-right clinger.

  8. “Will Congress Finally Protect State-Legal Pot Businesses From the Feds?
    A bill introduced Thursday with bipartisan support in both chambers of Congress would stop federal law enforcement from targeting states with legal weed.”

    I’ll believe it when I see it.
    This would take considerable political courage, and that’s something most DC politicians lack.

  9. Liberals endorsing the 10th Amendment. How cute.

    1. Not even close. Recognizing the 10th Amendment would mean noting that the entire edifice of Federal controlled substance law is an invalid exercise. Not merely that it ‘shouldn’t’ be enforced where the States choose that it not be enforced. And even if states that so choose can restrict such substances they should do so with their own law enforcement, never with federales.

      1. Of course you are right. But POSs like Warren co-sponsoring a piece of legislation that even mentions the 10th Amendment is just precious.

        And I doubt she would even understand why we think that is so stupid.

    2. “Liberals endorsing the 10th Amendment. How cute.”

      Everything changes. Liberal certainly doesn’t mean what it used to, and those called liberals today will continue to find states rights more appealing after Trump wins 2020 and his bite starts to match his bark.

      1. Except in the matter of gun control, the environment, transportation, education, abortion, endangered species, tobacco, liquor, etc.

      2. Liberal still means the same thing, its just that the Democrats are no longer a liberal party

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