Historic Bipartisan Senate Agreement Reached to Protect State-Legal Marijuana Programs

Historic Bipartisan Senate Agreement Reached to Protect State-Legal Marijuana Programs

For the first time in decades, federal marijuana reform legislation has been introduced with Presidential support.

June 7, 2018

PRESS RELEASE - Washington, DC: Today, Senators Cory Gardner (R-CO) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) introduced bipartisan legislation, The Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States (STATES) Act of 2018, to remove the threat of federal intervention and prosecution in states that regulate marijuana use and sales.

A bipartisan House companion bill was introduced by Representatives David Joyce (R-OH) and Earl Blumenauer (D-OR). 

This will mark the first bicameral, bipartisan legislation to end the federal enforcement of prohibition in states that have reformed their marijuana laws. 

Specifically, this legislation

  • Creates an exemption to the Controlled Substances Act for U.S. states and territories that have reformed their laws with regard to marijuana policy, effectively restraining undue federal intervention 
  • Maintains federal legislative provisions (aka “guardrails”) to deter: 
    -The interstate trafficking of marijuana into prohibition states from legal states 
    -The prevention of those under 18 from working in the cannabis industry 
    -The prevention of those under 21 from purchasing marijuana (unless recommended by a state-qualified physician to treat a medical condition) 
    -Unsafe production conditions 
  • Provides greater flexibility for lawmakers in non-legal states to reform their laws in a manner that reflects the will of the of their constituents and regulates cannabis commerce 
  • Provides the ability for cannabis businesses to obtain basic banking services 
  • Removes industrial hemp from the Controlled Substances Act 

NORML Political Director Justin Strekal said: “With the introduction of The STATES Act by Sens. Warren and Gardner, the movement to end the federal government’s failed policy of cannabis criminalization has truly become a bipartisan effort.

“The majority of states now regulate marijuana use and more than six out of ten voters endorse legalizing the plant’s use by adults, making it time for the federal government to no longer stand in the way of this progress at the state level.

“President Trump made a commitment to Senator Gardner that he would support a federalist approach to state marijuana laws. Now Congress must do its part and swiftly move forward on this bipartisan legislation that explicitly provides states with the authority and autonomy to set their own marijuana policies absent the fear of federal incursion from a Justice Department led by militant cannabis prohibitionist Attorney General Jeff Sessions.” 

Never in modern history has there existed greater public support for ending the nation's nearly century-long experiment with marijuana prohibition. The continued criminalization of adult marijuana use is out-of-step with the views of adults throughout America, 93 percent of whom support medical marijuana (Quinnipiac, 2017) and 64 percent of whom endorse the outright legalization of recreational cannabis (Gallup, 2017). 

NORML has released a letter with over 55 supportive organizations for The STATES Act.

The STATES Act is cosponsored in the Senate by Senators Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV.), Rand Paul (R-KY), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), and Cory Booker (D-NJ). It is cosponsored in the House by Representatives Carlos Curbelo (R-FL.), Jared Polis (D-CO), Ken Buck (R-CO), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Walter Jones (R-NC), Dianna DeGette (D-CA), Rob Blum (R-IA), Steve Cohen (D-TN), Matt Geatz (R-FL), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), Tom McClintock (R-CA), Luis Correa (D-CA), Jason Lewis (R-MN), and Ro Khanna (D-CA). 

"Outdated federal marijuana laws have perpetuated our broken criminal justice system, created barriers to research, and hindered economic development," said Sen. Warren. "States like Massachusetts have put a lot of work into implementing common sense marijuana regulations--and they have the right to enforce their own marijuana policies. The federal government needs to get out of the business of outlawing marijuana." 

"In 2012, Coloradans legalized marijuana at the ballot box and the state created an apparatus to regulate the legal marijuana industry. 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," said Sen. Gardner. "The federal government is closing its eyes and plugging its ears while 46 states have acted. The bipartisan STATES Act fixes this problem once and for all by taking a states' rights approach to the legal marijuana question. 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 any states' legal marijuana industry."

"We should trust the people of the states, like Ohio, who have voted to implement responsible common-sense regulations and requirements for the use, production and sale of cannabis," said Rep. Joyce. "If the people of these states have decided to provide help for those veterans and others suffering from pain and other health issues, we should allow them access without government interference." 

"For too long the senseless prohibition of marijuana has devastated communities, disproportionately impacting poor Americans and communities of color. Not to mention, it's also wasted resources and stifled critical medical research," said Rep. Blumenauer. "It's past time to put the power back in the hands of the people. Congress must right this wrong." 

Thirty states, Washington, DC and the US territories of Guam and Puerto Rico have enacted legislation specific to the physician-authorized use of cannabis, while an estimated 63 million Americans now reside in jurisdictions where anyone over the age of 21 may possess cannabis legally. Voters overwhelmingly support these policy changes. According to a 2018 Quinnipiac University poll, 63 percent of Americans support full marijuana legalization and 70 percent believe that states, not the federal government, should set marijuana policy. 

To date, these statewide regulatory programs are operating largely as voters and politicians intended. The enactment of these policies have not negatively impacted workplace safety, crime rates, traffic safety or youth use patterns. They have stimulated economic development and created hundreds of millions of dollars in new tax revenue. Specifically, a 2017 report estimates that over 149,000 Americans are now working full-time in the cannabis industry. Tax revenues from states like Colorado, Oregon and Washington now exceed initial projections. Further, numerous studies have identified an association between cannabis access and lower rates of opioid use, abuse, hospitalizations and mortality.

Top photo courtesy of Adobe Stock