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State Lawmakers Push Back On Federal Anti-Marijuana Moves

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This month the Trump administration tore up Obama-era guidance that has generally allowed states to implement their own marijuana laws without federal interference.

But states aren’t taking the change sitting down.

On Monday, Vermont Gov. Phil Scott (R) signed into law a cannabis legalization bill that legislators in his state approved just hours after U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded the federal marijuana protections.

New Hampshire’s House of Representatives also approved a legalization bill days after the Sessions move.

And in a number of other states, lawmakers have filed legislation or resolutions forcefully pushing back on what they see as a federal attack on their marijuana policy prerogatives.

In Arizona, California, Massachusetts and Washington State, lawmakers are considering bills to prevent state and local officials from assisting federal agents in any actions against legal marijuana businesses, effectively making them “sanctuary states” for cannabis.

On Friday, Hawaii senators introduced a bill claiming that “federal scheduling of cannabis as a controlled substance does not apply to the medical use of cannabis in Hawaii because the medical use of cannabis in Hawaii is currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States.”

It is unclear how the U.S. Department of Justice would react to the state measure, which obviously does not have the power to change marijuana’s status under federal law.

But the claim by Hawaii lawmakers — as well as the other state bills to strip the federal government of any help it might hope for in moving against marijuana businesses and consumers — are just a small number of examples showing that local elected officials are prepared to strenuously oppose any cannabis crackdown that Sessions may launch.

Several state legislatures are also considering nonbinding resolutions that express the will of lawmakers that Trump administration should not interfere with local cannabis laws.

For example, last week, Iowa representatives filed a resolution calling on the federal government to reschedule marijuana.

Pennsylvania senators introduced a measure asking Congress to change gun laws to protect the Second Amendment rights of medical cannabis patients.

In Michigan, a pending resolution urges Sessions to “respect the people of Michigan’s constitutionally-protected right to regulate medical marihuana at the state level,” adding: “if he fails to do so, we call upon the President of the United States to replace him with a successor who will more faithfully fulfill this constitutional duty.”

An Alaska measure asks the Trump administration to “forbear any federal interference in marijuana policy of states where marijuana has been legalized.”

In Illinois, lawmakers concerned with the marijuana industry’s banking access issues are pushing a resolution urging Congress to “amend federal law to provide immunity from federal prosecution and regulatory protections for financial institutions legally providing services to cannabis-related businesses, licensees, and consumers pursuant to applicable state law.”

A more modest South Carolina Senate resolution wants Congress to remove “federal statutory and regulatory barriers that prevent” research on marijuana.

Kentucky representatives filed a measure asking Congress to remove hemp from the Controlled Substances Act, prevent the Drug Enforcement Administration from sending “agents onto farms and other sites where hemp is being grown, stored, and processed” and instruct the Food and Drug Administration to “accelerate clinical trials and other research on the health effects of cannabidiol (CBD) and other cannabinoids found in hemp.”

Georgia representatives want the feds to “reclassify marijuana so that its medical benefits and effects may be further researched.”

A New Jersey resolution asks Congress to pass laws “that are fair and compassionate, permit states to set their own medical marijuana policies without federal interference, and make marijuana accessible to the millions of Americans who would benefit from its medicinal properties.”

A New Mexico representative wants his colleagues to approve a measure mandating that “formal request be made to the New Mexico congressional delegation to create new legislation protecting medicinal cannabis users in New Mexico from the threat of being sent to federal prison.”

California lawmakers already passed a resolution late last year urging federal legislators to reschedule marijuana “from a Schedule I drug to an alternative schedule, therefore allowing the legal research and development of marijuana or cannabis for medical use and allowing for the legal commerce of marijuana or cannabis so that businesses dealing with marijuana or cannabis can use traditional banks or financial institutions for their banking needs.” Now, they are considering a separate measure sending a message to federal prosecutors that “the enforcement priorities of the United States Department of Justice should not be undeservedly placed on California’s lawful and closely regulated cannabis industry.”

The state bills and resolutions are just one lens through which to view the overwhelming unpopularity of the Trump administration’s move to undo state marijuana protections.

A large number of members of Congress from both parties also swiftly slammed the decision, and several national polls showed that voters strongly support the right of states to set their own cannabis laws without federal interference.

Bipartisan Lawmakers Push For Marijuana Protections In Funding Bill

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Tom Angell is the editor of Marijuana Moment. A 20-year veteran in the cannabis law reform movement, he covers the policy and politics of marijuana. Separately, he founded the nonprofit Marijuana Majority. Previously he reported for Marijuana.com and MassRoots, and handled media relations and campaigns for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition and Students for Sensible Drug Policy.

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