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.
Bernie Sanders Talks Marijuana With Killer Mike, Danny Glover And Ben & Jerry’s Founder
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) led a panel during a presidential campaign stop in North Carolina on Friday where he and surrogates—rapper Killer Mike, actor Danny Glover and Ben & Jerry’s founder Ben Cohen—discussed marijuana reform.
At one point, Cohen said that he was arrested after being caught smoking cannabis while he was in school but the police only charged him for littering—a discretionary decision that he said he likely wouldn’t have been afforded if he was black. He speculated that without that privilege, the incident could have cost him loans that allowed him to build his ice cream empire.
Sanders, a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, opened the conversation by asking Killer Mike to weigh in on the impact of the drug war, particularly on communities of color.
The artist said the “war on drugs, we now know from history, has been a tremendous failure” and that it “was never a war on drugs, it was a war on progressive white kids and black people.”
He discussed the racist origins of prohibition, the role cannabis criminalization has played in mass incarceration and emphasized the need to include restorative justice in a legal marijuana system.
“But we have a greater opportunity, and the greater opportunity is this: marijuana is going to be legal in our lifetime,” he said. “Beyond getting a little stoned in the morning, which I didn’t do this morning because I knew I had to come see you guys, marijuana provides through hemp paper, alternative to plastics, it provides jobs, resources, dispensaries.”
Watch the conversation about cannabis, starting at about 11:20 into the video below:
“We have an opportunity this time to take the people that are exiting jail, have expunged records and creating a pathway as wide as this aisle directly to legal marijuana and creating economic sustainability in the same communities that were robbed of that opportunity,” he said.
“As for me and my stoner friends, we’ll be buying Ben & Jerry’s and voting for Bernard Sanders.”
Glover joked that Mike’s plan is the “real green new deal that we need right here,” riffing off the name of climate change agenda backed by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY).
“What we’re talking about now is repairing the wrongs that were done on our communities, and we have a senator who’s going to be the president, who’s saying that we’re not only going to repair the wrongs of the war on drugs but we are going to bring back an era that we are organizing in our communities,” the actor said.
Cohen highlighted racial inequities in marijuana enforcement and broader societal structures, starting by noting that his parents were only able to enter the middle class with the help of a government program providing low-interest mortgages that black people were not entitled to. That program allowed him to go to a good school, he said, where he got busted for cannabis at one point.
“In the midst of getting my higher education, one summer I was smoking some pot with some friends on a beach and the cops caught us,” he said. “We were handcuffed and they took us to the station and they ended up giving us a ticket for littering a lighted cigarette butt on the ground.”
“But I am well aware that if I was black, I would’ve ended up with a criminal record that would have prevented me from getting the loans that we needed to start Ben & Jerry’s,” he said. “It’s really clear to me that if I was black, there wouldn’t have been a Ben & Jerry’s. I’m conscious of that, I think about that, and that’s one of the big reasons I’m supporting Bernie because he’s going to put an end to that system.”
The criminalization of marijuana has been a disaster for communities of color.
We will legalize marijuana, expunge past convictions and invest revenue from legal marijuana back into those communities. pic.twitter.com/x7xrzw1Eu4
— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) September 21, 2019
Sanders closed the panel discussion by asking audience members to raise their hands if they knew someone arrested for marijuana, or were themselves arrested. He did a similar exercise at a campaign rally in South Carolina earlier this week.
After hands shot up, the senator said “this is what the war on drugs has done in this country.”
“It has criminalized so many people in this room. This is amazing,” he said. “The war on drugs has been incredibly destructive for millions and millions of people in this country and we’re going to end that war on drugs and we’re going to make marijuana legal.”
Photo courtesy of Facebook/Bernie Sanders.
Former Federal Prosecutor’s Marijuana Legalization Measure Advances In South Dakota
A measure to legalize marijuana in South Dakota—introduced by a former federal prosecutor and backed by a leading national cannabis advocacy group—was recently cleared for signature gathering.
Brendan Johnson, who served as the U.S. Attorney for the District of South Dakota and whose father represented the state in the U.S. Senate until 2015, filed the initiative in June. It received an official explanatory statement from the attorney general last month and its backers were given the green light to start collecting signatures last week.
“We are excited to move forward with these ballot initiative campaigns,” Johnson told Marijuana Moment. “South Dakota voters are ready to approve both medical marijuana and legalization at the ballot box next year.”
The Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) is supporting the proposed constitutional amendment, as well as a separate statutory initiative to legalize medical cannabis in the state that was approved for signature collection last month.
The former federal prosecutor’s measure, which is being steered by the committee South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws, would allow adults 21 and older to possess and distribute up to one ounce of marijuana. Individuals would also be allowed to cultivate up to three cannabis plants. The South Dakota Department of Revenue would be tasked with issuing licenses for manufacturers, testing facilities and retailers.
Sales would be taxed at 15 percent under the initiative, and revenue would be used to fund the program’s implementation, with additional monies going toward public education and the state general fund.
Beside legalizing marijuana, the amendment would also instruct the legislature to enact legislation to legalize hemp and medical cannabis. If the separate statutory medical marijuana legalization initiative, being coordinated by the group New Approach South Dakota, qualifies and passes as well, that latter requirement wouldn’t be necessary.
“The Marijuana Policy Project strongly supports the South Dakota campaign,” MPP Deputy Director Matthew Schweich, who led the organization’s efforts in support of previous legalization campaigns in Maine, Massachusetts and Michigan, told Marijuana Moment. “Across the country, and even in conservative states, voters are demanding marijuana policy reform. Our goal is simple: to effectuate the will of the people when elected officials choose to ignore it.”
Petitioners for the proposed constitutional amendment must collect 33,921 valid signatures from voters to qualify for the 2020 ballot. For statutory initiatives, 16,961 signatures are required. MPP’s involvement will likely bolster the campaign’s prospects of meeting that goal.
It’s already clear that marijuana reform measures are going to face resistance from certain quarters, with Gov. Kristi Noem (R) vetoing a hemp legalization bill in March and the state’s Republican party urging residents not to sign ballot petitions.
“Our campaign, South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws, will be working from now until Election Day 2020 to earn the support of South Dakotans from every corner of the state,” Johnson said.
Photo courtesy of WeedPornDaily.
Cory Booker Pledges To Back Only Marijuana Bills With Justice Focus As Banking Vote Approaches
With a vote on marijuana banking issues imminent in the House, Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) emphasized on Friday that he will not support cannabis legislation that doesn’t include restorative justice components.
In a tweet that linked to an earlier Marijuana Moment article on his cannabis stance, the 2020 Democratic presidential candidate wrote that “any marijuana legislation moving through Congress must include restorative justice for those most harmed by the War on Drugs in order to get my vote.”
As I said earlier this year, any marijuana legislation moving through Congress must include restorative justice for those most harmed by the War on Drugs in order to get my vote.https://t.co/Y1dOwgHbm2
— Sen. Cory Booker (@SenBooker) September 20, 2019
The statement comes at a critical moment in the marijuana reform movement. House leadership announced on Friday that the first full floor vote on a standalone piece of cannabis reform legislation—a bill to protect banks that service cannabis businesses from being penalized by federal regulators—will be held next week. But that development has also created controversy, with several advocacy groups arguing that a vote should be postponed until more wide-ranging reform legislation is passed.
Although Booker didn’t directly reference the banking bill his his tweet, its timing seemed to suggest that he sides with those groups—which include the ACLU, Human Rights Watch and Drug Policy Alliance—and that he wouldn’t support the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act as written.
Booker’s Senate press secretary confirmed to Marijuana Moment in an email that his boss’s Twitter post was sent directly in reaction to the House banking news.
While some have made the case that the bill would help promote social equity by improving access to banking services for minority business owners, for example, others view the legislation as primarily benefiting large cannabis firms.
Throughout his campaign, the senator has emphasized the need for inclusive and comprehensive marijuana reform. He determined that a bill to protect state cannabis programs from federal intervention that he formerly cosponsored didn’t meet that standard and did not attach his name to the latest version.
“At this point it’s too obvious and urgent and unfair that we’re moving something on marijuana on the federal level and it doesn’t do something on restorative justice,” he told VICE in April. “I want that bill to have some acknowledgement of the savage injustices that the marijuana prohibition has done to communities.”
“I get very angry when people talk about legalizing marijuana and then give no light to how marijuana law enforcement was done in ways that fed upon poor communities—black and brown communities. This is a war on drugs that has not been a war on drugs—it’s been a war on people, and disproportionately poor people and disproportionately black and brown people.”
Booker also said that he wants to couple conversations about legalization with talk of expunging prior cannabis convictions “in the same breath.”
The senator’s potential future opposition to a House-passed cannabis banking bill could prove problematic as its supporters work to shepherd the legislation through a chamber where it already faces an uphill path under anti-marijuana Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and skepticism from other GOP lawmakers.
Photo courtesy of Senate Democrats.