STATES Act Reintroduced in Congress to Protect State Cannabis Laws
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STATES Act Reintroduced in Congress to Protect State Cannabis Laws

The bipartisan legislation would protect states’ rights to enact their own marijuana policies without federal interference.

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April 8, 2019

Congress is again moving to protect state-legal cannabis businesses with the reintroduction of the Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States (STATES) Act on April 4.

Sens. Cory Gardner (R-CO) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) have reintroduced the legislation in the Senate, while Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), David Joyce (R-OH) and Maxine Waters (D-CA) reintroduced it in the House of Representatives. The bill would protect states’ rights to enact their own marijuana policies by amending the Controlled Substances Act to exempt marijuana-related activities that comply with state, territory or tribal laws. The legislation would also protect banks that work with marijuana businesses.

“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 in a public statement. “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.”

“Forty-seven states have legalized some form of cannabis and the majority of Americans support its legalization. Our outdated laws have ruined lives, devastated communities and wasted resources for critical medical treatment and research,” Blumenauer said in a public statement. “The STATES Act is the next logical step in a comprehensive blueprint for more rational federal cannabis policy. It’s time for Congress to catch up with the rest of America and fix a badly broken system.”

While the legislation does not remove federal criminal penalties for illicit cannabis activities, it would end the threat of federal interference with states that have regulated the production, sale and personal use of cannabis. The bill also directs the Government Accountability Office to study the potential impact of cannabis legalization on traffic safety.

“This bipartisan legislation signals the eventual end of marijuana prohibition at the federal level,” said Marijuana Policy Project Executive Director Steve Hawkins in a public statement. “It reflects the position held by a strong majority of Americans that states should be able to develop their own cannabis policies without interference from the federal government. It also reflects the position President Trump took on marijuana policy throughout his campaign, and we are hopeful that he will have the opportunity to sign it into law.”

When the STATES Act was first introduced in June 2018, Trump said he “probably will end up supporting” the legislation, although it stalled in Congress last year.

Attorney General William Barr stated during his confirmation hearings in January that he would not direct the Department of Justice to target cannabis businesses or individuals that are in compliance with state cannabis laws, although federal prosecutors can still do so legally at their discretion, which creates uncertainty in the industry.

“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,” said Aaron Smith, executive director of the National Cannabis Industry Association, in a statement. “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.”

The STATES Act is joined by several other cannabis reform bills in Congress this year, including the SAFE Banking Act, which would ensure cannabis businesses have access to basic banking services.

“While we look forward to the day when Congress is ready to enact more comprehensive reform, we fully embrace the states’ rights approach proposed by this bill,” Hawkins added. “Nearly every state in the nation has enacted reforms that roll back the failed policy of marijuana prohibition in one way or another. This legislation will ensure those laws are respected by and protected from the federal government."