On Thursday, U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Cory Gardner (R-CO) announced plans to introduce legislation to let states enact their own marijuana laws without federal interference, a proposal that President Trump told Gardner he supports.
House members are filing a companion bill.
Here’s what other lawmakers and advocates are saying about the bill…
U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO):
Joined @SenCoryGardner to introduce STATES Act to provide more certainty to patients, businesses, & consumers in CO. Congress needs to join 21st century on marijuana regulation. This bill even more important since AG Sessions upended the will of our state by rescinding Cole Memo.
— Michael Bennet (@SenBennetCO) June 7, 2018
U.S. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV):
NV voters have made it clear that they favor the regulation & taxation of marijuana in the state. The states who legalize & regulate marijuana should be respected. That's why I'm proud to cosponsor @SenWarren @SenCoryGardner's #STATESAct to ensure they are https://t.co/dvHlbhA7BB
— Senator Cortez Masto (@SenCortezMasto) June 7, 2018
Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA):
It’s time to finally end the failed #WarOnDrugs. Proud to stand with @SenWarren & @SenCoryGardner in support of the bipartisan, bicameral #STATESact, which would prohibit federal interference in state cannabis laws. https://t.co/vn58W1xM3U
— Rep. Barbara Lee (@RepBarbaraLee) June 7, 2018
Congresswoman Diana DeGette (D-CO):
Coloradans voted for responsible marijuana legalization, and our state is better off because of it. That's why I'm supporting the #STATESAct, to ensure residents are protected from the federal government's meddling into these freedoms within our borders. https://t.co/VtBclymSOS pic.twitter.com/M3VCh51UBK
— Rep. Diana DeGette (@RepDianaDeGette) June 7, 2018
Officials with Competitive Enterprise Institute, Americans for Tax Reform, Taxpayers Protection Alliance and other groups:
“Though we vary in our opinions on marijuana legalization, the signatories to this letter are in strong accord when it comes to the matter of the level of government to which this question should be left. We believe the STATES Act appropriately addresses the conflict between state and federal marijuana laws without asking Congress to take a stance on whether marijuana should be legalized—Congress need only get out of the way of state legislatures and their voters, who are best positioned to decide questions about marijuana legalization. As noted, the undersigned groups believe this right must be restored to the states.”
NORML Political Director Justin Strekal:
“With the introduction of The STATES Act by Senators 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.”
Don Murphy, conservative outreach director for the Marijuana Policy Project:
“The STATES Act is the most significant piece of marijuana-related legislation ever introduced in Congress. With its bipartisan backing in the Senate, it symbolically signals the eventual end of marijuana prohibition at the federal level. This legislation reflects the position President Trump took on marijuana policy during his campaign, and it comes shortly on the heels of the positive comments he made to Sen. Gardner. The president has a unique opportunity to get behind historic legislation that enjoys solid support on both sides of the political spectrum. While we look forward to the day when there is full acceptance of cannabis at the federal level, we heartily embrace the states’ rights approach proposed by this bill. As an organization, we have been at the forefront of changing state marijuana laws for more than 20 years. It is time for those laws to be respected by and protected from the federal government.”
Jolene Forman, staff attorney at the Drug Policy Alliance:
“The STATES Act represents a landmark moment in the movement to end the decades-long war on marijuana,” said. It creates a workable framework for approaching the future of marijuana policy. “The STATES Act is a first step toward ending the harms of marijuana prohibition. This bipartisan proposal clears the way for states to develop their own marijuana policies without fear of federal intervention. This will give states more opportunity to restore communities that have borne the brunt of the drug war and mass criminalization.
Inimai Chettiar, director of the Brennan Center’s Justice program:
“This new bill introduced by Senators Warren and Gardner safeguards states’ ability to set their own reasonable policies about marijuana against the punitive and ineffective approaches preferred by Attorney General Jeff Sessions. In the face of outdated federal policy, this bill defends the ability and responsibility of states to create and test the best marijuana policies for the American people, and will decrease the number of people in our country who are unnecessarily incarcerated.”
Veterans Cannabis Project Founder and Executive Director Nick Etten:
“This bill is an important sign of bipartisan respect for the will of voters across the country, but it does nothing to help the millions of veterans who rely on a federal VA health system that bans veterans from access to state-legal medical cannabis. Millions of veterans want legal access to medical cannabis as a treatment option and that won’t be possible until Congress and President Trump change federal law to remove cannabis from its current Schedule 1 classification.”
New Federalism Fund:
“We applaud Senator Gardner, Senator Warren, Congressman Joyce, Congressman Blumenauer, and the rest of the cosponsors for their bipartisan leadership on the STATES Act. Conflicts between federal and state law are creating untenable issues for the state-licensed and regulated cannabis industry. The STATES ACT amends the Controlled Substances Act to bring federal drug policy back into alignment with the 10th Amendment, allowing each state to determine the best cannabis policy for their citizens. This is as the Founders would have intended, making the STATES Act an important step towards a humane and constitutional federal cannabis policy.”
National Sheriffs’ Association, Major County Sheriffs’ Association, Major Cities Chiefs Association, National Narcotics Officers’ Associations’ Coalition and other law enforcement groups:
“The fact is, gangs and cartels have been making liberal use of legalization to provide cover for their illegal activities. These gangs have ties to Mexican, Cuban, Vietnamese, and Russian cartels. The gangs often purchase homes in residential neighborhoods, wire in extra electricity and water capacity, and convert them into multi-million dollar grow houses in suburban neighborhoods. These gangs are also trafficking in other illegal drugs, organized crime, and prostitution. Crime has been steadily increasing in Colorado in all categories since legalization, including violent crimes.”
Smart Approaches to Marijuana’s Kevin Sabet:
“Four years ago, as a member of the House, Cory Gardner voted against these very same provisions. Now that the pot industry has expanded in Colorado, normalizing use and advertising THC-laced candies to youth, he is singing a different tune. If enacted, this bill would pave the way for the commercialization of the marijuana industry and the creation of the next Big Tobacco. It is a shame that Senator Gardner has chosen to put political donations and expediency ahead of public health and safety. We are seeing communities across the country fight back and SAM applauds New Hampshire, Connecticut, Vermont, and other states who have recently rejected Big Marijuana. We won’t stop amplifying the voices of families and individuals affected by these lax policies.”
Photo courtesy of Chris Wallis // Side Pocket Images.
More State Political Parties Endorse Marijuana Legalization
Delegates at Democratic party conventions in two separate states voted to add marijuana legalization planks to their official platforms this weekend.
In Texas, Democrats embraced a policy to “legalize possession and use of marijuana and its derivatives and to regulate its use, production and sale as is successfully done in Colorado, Washington and other States.” Delegates also called on the immediate legalization of medical marijuana, the removal of cannabis from the list of federally banned substances and the release of individuals convicted of marijuana possession, as well as the expungement of records for individuals convicted of marijuana-related misdemeanors.
A separate plank adopted by the party embraces the “legalization of hemp for agricultural purposes.”
The language of the planks is similar to the Texas Democratic Party’s current platform, which also called for marijuana decriminalization and the regulation of the “use, cultivation, production, and sale [of cannabis] as is done with tobacco and alcohol.”
The move comes about a week after the state’s Republican party delegates approved platform planks to decriminalize cannabis, expand the state’s medical marijuana program, reschedule marijuana under federal law and push forward with hemp reform.
In New Hampshire, Democratic delegates also voted in favor of adding a platform plank to legalize cannabis. “We believe that marijuana should be legalized, taxed, and regulated,” the Granite State Dems’ new plank reads. Delegates at the convention also approved a resolution supporting the removal of marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act.
The passage of the pro-legalization plank in New Hampshire reflects a significant policy evolution—but the path to its approval wasn’t necessarily smooth. There was debate among party officials about the initial language of the plank, which said the state should “treat cannabis in a manner similar to alcohol.” The plank was changed to satisfy some members who took issue with the reference to alcohol, The Concord Monitor reported. Even so, not all members were on board with the plank, with House Minority Leader Steve Shurtleff arguing that the party should wait until a legislative commission studying the impact of legalization in the state submits its report in November.
That the party’s delegates went ahead and adopted the legal marijuana endorsement is “an encouraging development that bodes very well for the future of cannabis policy in New Hampshire,” Matt Simon, New England political director for the Marijuana Policy Project, told Marijuana Moment. “After several years of modest, incremental reforms being obstructed by previous Democratic Governors John Lynch and Maggie Hassan, it’s great to see that the party, and both of its gubernatorial candidates, are now embracing legalization and regulation.”
New Hampshire’s Republican party has not taken up legalization as a platform plank.
The Texas and New Hampshire Dems joined the ranks of several others that approved similar platform positions.
In May, the Democratic Party of New York endorsed a resolution supporting “the legalization of marijuana which should be regulated and taxed in a manner similar to alcohol.” Connecticut’s Democratic party also adopted a platform plank this year stating that “[t]he time for legalization of Marijuana has come.”
“Doing so will raise revenue, which can be used to benefit those suffering from the disease of addiction to prescription pain medications and other opioids.”
And from California to Wisconsin, Democratic party delegates across the country officially backed marijuana legalization in 2016—and numerous others threw their support behind more modest cannabis reform policies such as decriminalization. Iowa’s Democratic party went even further, calling for the legalization of all drugs.
That same year, the Democratic National Convention (DNC) approved the first-ever major party platform to include a plank embracing a “reasoned pathway for future legalization” and the rescheduling of cannabis under federal law.
“We believe that the states should be laboratories of democracy on the issue of marijuana, and those states that want to decriminalize it or provide access to medical marijuana should be able to do so. We support policies that will allow more research on marijuana, as well as reforming our laws to allow legal marijuana businesses to exist without uncertainty. And we recognize our current marijuana laws have had an unacceptable disparate impact in terms of arrest rates for African Americans that far outstrip arrest rates for whites, despite similar usage rates.”
The growing support for legalization among Democratic state parties appears to reflect a similar trend in public opinion toward cannabis reform nationally. A recent poll found that a record 68 percent of Americans believe marijuana should be legal. That includes a majority of Republicans. While federal lawmakers have generally been slower to adopt pro-legalization stances, a number of bipartisan bills have also been introduced in recent months that aim to reform the country’s cannabis laws.
James Comey Weighs In On Marijuana Legalization
Former FBI Director James Comey, at the center of a wide-ranging investigation into whether President Trump obstructed justice, has been asked many times what he thinks about the rule of law and related matters during the course of a publicity tour for his new book.
On Friday, he was asked to share his thoughts about marijuana legalization.
“The experiment is underway in the United States and I think the jury is still out on it,” Comey said.
“What I like about what’s going on in the U.S. is we call the states the laboratories of democracy, and allow the people in the states to experiment — experiment is probably the wrong word in this context — but to make choices, to try and figure out the best way not to overcriminalize behavior that people want to engage in, but also not to reward behavior that might hurt especially young people.”
While the former top federal cop indicated he supports letting states implement cannabis policies that are in conflict with U.S. laws, he’s not yet ready to personally endorse legalization.
“I’d like to see how it goes and what the natural break on it is. Does it really lead down a slippery slope to other drugs?” he said in the interview with LBC in the UK. “And there’s emerging science about the the dangers to the brain of smoked marijuana. Smoked marijuana is not medicine, and so I honestly don’t know.”
“I think it’s worth experimenting with relaxation, talking about it, but monitoring it very closely.”
See Comey’s marijuana comments, roughly 18:50 into the clip below:
In 2014, as FBI director, Comey made headlines by suggesting that he wanted to relax the bureau’s employment policies with respect to drug use.
“I have to hire a great work force to compete with those cyber criminals and some of those kids want to smoke weed on the way to the interview,” he said at the time.
He walked the comments back days later in response to questioning from then-Sen. Jeff Sessions, who now serves as U.S. attorney general.
“I was trying to be both serious and funny,” Comey said in response to the “disappointed” senator.
Photo courtesy of FBI.
Marijuana Legalization Bill Moves Forward In U.S. Territory
About a week after a U.S. territory hit a snag on the road to full marijuana legalization, a committee made several revisions to the bill that are expected to clear the path to passage.
Lawmakers in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) seemed set to put a legalization bill to a full House of Representatives vote on June 12, but the bill was unexpectedly sent back to the chamber’s Committee on Judiciary and Governmental Operations (JGO).
That same committee previously unanimously approved the legislation in May. It also passed in the territory’s full Senate that month.
Upon referral, the committee made a number of revisions, including the removal of licensing fees for statutory reasons and the addition of a policy that bans regulatory commissioners from participating in the program if they’ve been convicted of a crime within the last 15 years, legalization advocate Gerry Palacios of Sensible CNMI told Marijuana Moment. Because two sections regarding cannabis use and sales for individuals under 21 contradicted each other, one was struck from the legislation.
One question still needs to be resolved by lawmakers: the JGO recommended a recess until July 2 in order to clear up whether fines levied against individuals who violate the law would be counted as “revenue generators.” If the commission determines that these fines are not a part of the revenue stream, the fines provision will remain in the bill. (Revenue generation legislation is supposed to originate in the House — and not the Senate, where the legalization bill was first filed.)
Another change the committee made to the bill on Thursday would speed up the timeline for implementing legalization. The JGO amended the legislation to require that the CNMI Cannabis Commission would be created within 30 days of the passage of the bill instead of 90 days.
“These changes were made for clarification and constitutional purposes for speedy passage of the bill,” Palacios said. “The goal is to keep the intent and integrity of the bill intact while at the same time addressing issues on interpretation of its language.”
“Once the JGO convenes on July 2 after clarification on [the] ‘fines’ issue, they will move to adopt and push for full House review.”
So that’s where the state of cannabis legalization in the U.S. jurisdiction stands. Advocates tell Marijuana Moment that the Senate is likely to OK the changes recommended by the committee, but it’s unclear when a full House vote will take place at this point. If the bill ultimately passes, CNMI will be the first U.S. territory to fully legalize without a preexisting medical cannabis system in place.
“The Senate will have no problem with these changes as long as the bill’s integrity and intent are kept.”
That said, the territory’s governor, Ralph Torres, expressed concerns earlier this month about the potential impact of legalization on public health and crime.
“In the nine states that have legalized marijuana, have we seen an increase in crime?,” he asked, according to Marianas Variety. “If there is, what is the nature of these crimes? We should look at this and other things. I am concerned about public safety issues.”
Here’s what the bill would accomplish
- Adults 21 and older would be allowed to possess, grow and consume cannabis.
- CNMI would establish a regulatory system to produce, process and manage retail sales of marijuana.
- Tax revenue from marijuana sales would go toward funding the regulatory system and other government services.