Bipartisan Quartet Reintroduces Bill To Protect State-legal Cannabis Businesses

April 8, 2019 by Dan McCue
Yasmin Pena trims excess leaves from marijuana plants at Cresco Labs medical marijuana cultivation facility on August 8, 2018, in Joliet, Ill. (Erin Hooley/Chicago Tribune/TNS)

A bipartisan quartet comprised of lawmakers from both the House and Senate have reintroduced a bill intended to protect state-legal cannabis businesses from federal interference.

The bill, also known as the Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States (STATES) Act, allows states to determine their own cannabis policies.

It does so by amending the Controlled Substance Act so that businesses and individuals operating in compliance with state cannabis laws would not be considered to be violating federal law, which still prohibits the sale and use of marijuana.

It was reintroduced Thursday by sponsors Sens. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., and Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., in the Senate, and Representatives Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., and David Joyce, R-Ohio, in the House.

“In 2012, Coloradans legalized marijuana at the ballot box and the state created an apparatus to regulate the legal marijuana industry,” Senator Gardner said in one of a series of tweets on the bill. “But because of the one-size-fits-all federal prohibition, state decisions like this put Colorado and other states at odds with the federal government.

“People of good faith – both in the industry and outside of it – are at risk of being a federal felon despite complying with state law. And the cash on the streets is a big public safety and law enforcement concern,” he said. “That’s why I introduced the bipartisan, bicameral STATES Act with Senator Warren, and Representatives Joyce and Blumenauer.

“This is a mainstream, federalism approach to a conflict that must be resolved,” Gardner added. “The federal government is closing its eyes and plugging its ears while 47 states have acted and it’s time the federal government respects the will of Colorado voters.”

“Our outdated cannabis laws have ruined lives, devastated communities and wasted resources,” agreed Representative Blumenauer.  “This is the next logical step for Congress to catch up with the rest of America and fix a badly broken system.”

“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 said.

“It’s past time for Congress to clarify cannabis policy on the federal level and ensure states are free to make their own decisions in the best interest of their constituents. The STATES Act does just that by respecting the will of the states that have legalized cannabis in some form and allowing them to implement their own policies without fear of repercussion from the federal government,” he added.

Medical marijuana is now legal in 33 states, while recreational marijuana is legal in 10 states and the District of Columbia.

Late last month, the House Financial Services Committee approved bipartisan legislation that would allow banks to work with marijuana businesses that are legal under state law.

The Secure and Fair Enforcement Banking Act of 2019, alternately known as the SAFE Banking Act, would shield banks and credit unions from federal regulatory penalties for providing financial services to legitimate cannabis-related businesses and service providers. 

The bill, sponsored by Representatives Ed Perlmutter, D-Colo., and  Denny Heck, D-Wash., had nearly 150 cosponsors and passed by a vote of 45-15, with eleven Republicans voting in favor of the legislation.

Aaron Smith, executive director of the National Cannabis Industry Association, said the STATES Act is being reintroduced at a key moment “when bipartisan support for cannabis policy reform is at historic levels in both chambers of Congress and among the general public.”

“Regulating cannabis is successfully replacing illicit markets with licensed businesses in a growing number of states across the country. This legislation will simply allow those state regulatory programs to succeed without federal interference,” Smith said.

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