U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Cory Gardner (R-CO) held a press conference on Thursday to discuss a far-reaching bill they are filing to end the federal war on marijuana.
The move comes after Gardner cut a deal with President Trump to support such legislation in exchange for the senator ending a blockade on Justice Department nominees he began in protest of U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s decision earlier this year to rescind Obama-era guidance generally protecting state cannabis laws.
Watch Warren and Gardner discuss their marijuana bill below:
The draft bill, details of which Marijuana Moment first reported last month, would amend the federal Controlled Substances Act to exempt state-legal marijuana activity from its provisions.
The Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Entrusting States (STATES) Act would also protect banks that work with legal cannabis businesses and legalize industrial hemp. It has seven initial cosponsors.
Gardner said at the press conference that he spoke to President Trump about marijuana on Thursday morning and that he remains supportive of an approach that respects state laws.
“We can’t go backwards. We can only go forwards,” the president said, according to Gardner.
Warren told the Boston Globe that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) “has pledged to allow a vote on the bill.”
She added that that it was Sessions’s move to rescind the Obama-era guidance that spurred lawmakers to work across the aisle to find a solution to enact statutory protections for local cannabis policies.
“Outdated federal marijuana laws have perpetuated our broken criminal justice system, created barriers to research, and hindered economic development,” Warren said in a press release. “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,” Gardner added. “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.”
Our bill does not legalize marijuana. Instead, it allows the principle of federalism to prevail as the founding fathers intended and leaves the marijuana question up to the states. Learn more here: https://t.co/gRckNUKSic
— Cory Gardner (@SenCoryGardner) June 7, 2018
Companion legislation is also being filed in the House by Congressman David Joyce (R-OH) and Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), along with 14 other cosponsors.
“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,” Joyce said in a press release. “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.”
We should trust the people of the states, like Ohio, who have voted to implement responsible common-sense regulations & requirements for the use, production, & sale of cannabis. Proud to introduce the STATES Act with Rep. Blumenauer @CoryGardner @SenWarren https://t.co/t5eKgVuQzq
— Dave Joyce (@RepDaveJoyce) June 7, 2018
“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,” Blumenauer argued. “It’s past time to put the power back in the hands of the people. Congress must right this wrong.”
For far too long, lives & resources have been wasted because of the failed War on Drugs. Congress must right this wrong & end marijuana prohibition. Proud to have been part of this effort. https://t.co/UDKI0piZp9
— Earl Blumenauer (@repblumenauer) June 7, 2018
In a news advisory, Warren’s office said the legislation will “ensure that each state has the right to determine for itself the best approach to marijuana within its borders.” It also “extends these protections to Washington D.C., U.S. territories, and federally recognized tribes, and contains common-sense guardrails to ensure that states, territories, and tribes regulating marijuana do so safely.”
Earlier on Thursday, Warren and Gardner discussed their cannabis bill in an appearances on MSNBC and Fox News.
— Fox News (@FoxNews) June 7, 2018
— Fox News (@FoxNews) June 7, 2018
By outlawing marijuana, the federal government puts communities of color, small businesses, & public health & safety at risk. My new bill with @SenCoryGardner will let states, territories, & tribes decide for themselves how to regulate marijuana – without federal interference.
— Elizabeth Warren (@SenWarren) June 7, 2018
No veteran with chronic pain, child with a rare disease, or person struggling with a terminal illness should be denied the treatment they need. Millions of Americans currently access medical marijuana under state law. My new bill with @SenCoryGardner will help protect them.
— Elizabeth Warren (@SenWarren) June 7, 2018
No qualified scientist should have to struggle to conduct basic research on marijuana. Their findings could spur medical advances or counter the opioid epidemic. I'm introducing a new bill with @SenCoryGardner that could make it easier to study marijuana’s medical uses.
— Elizabeth Warren (@SenWarren) June 7, 2018
A majority of Americans support legalizing marijuana. It’s time for Congress to listen, and pass this new bipartisan legislation. https://t.co/sljqUoMlCN
— Elizabeth Warren (@SenWarren) June 7, 2018
“Thanks to the leadership of Senators Gardner and Warren, the movement to end the federal government’s failed policy of cannabis criminalization has truly become a bipartisan effort,” Justin Strekal, political director for NORML, said in an interview. “Given that a majority of states now regulate marijuana use and six out of ten voters endorse legalizing the plant’s use by adults, it is time that members of Congress take action to comport federal law with majority public opinion and the plant’s rapidly changing legal and cultural status. U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions must be restrained from having the ability to infringe on the rights of states that have successfully implemented marijuana legalization, be it for medical or responsible adult use.”
It is unclear if or when the new legislation will be voted on, but the development adds to significant momentum for cannabis reform on Capitol Hill and in states in recent weeks.
U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) filed a bill to legalize industrial hemp and fast-tracked it on the calendar, skipping the committee process, and said he intends to attach the language to the larger Farm Bill.
Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said he would soon introduce legislation to remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act and has pledged to support McConnell’s hemp bill.
Activists collected enough signatures to place marijuana measures on November ballots in Michigan and Utah, and advocates in Missouri filed signatures to qualify cannabis questions as well. Oklahoma voters will consider a medical marijuana initiative this month.
See the full text of the new bill below:
And here’s a one-pager explaining the bill’s provisions:
Photo courtesy of Edward Kimmel.
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.