Gardner, Neguse, Bennet unveil states' rights marijuana bill for second straight year

Trump said last year he'd "probably" support measure
gardner neguse states act.jpg
Posted at 1:22 PM, Apr 04, 2019
and last updated 2019-04-04 17:46:59-04

DENVER – Colorado’s U.S. senators, Cory Gardner and Michael Bennet, along with Rep. Joe Neguse, D-Colo., on Thursday morning introduced for a second straight year the STATES Act, a states’ rights marijuana bill with bipartisan support.

The bill was unveiled in a Thursday morning news conference that featured Gardner, Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., and Rep. David Joyce, D-Ohio.

The measure, the Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States Act, is similar to the STATES Act introduced in 2018, which President Trump said last June he would “probably end up supporting” but the measure never made it to his desk for consideration.

“I really do, I support Senator Gardner. I know exactly what he’s doing. We’re looking at it, but I probably will end up supporting that, yes,” Trump said at the time.

That came about two months after Trump told Gardner that Colorado’s legal marijuana programs were safe from extraneous federal intervention.

“As the president said in a conversation with me, we can’t go backward, we can only go forward,” Gardner said at the time. “The ketchup’s not going back into the bottle, as the old saying goes.”

On Thursday, Gardner reiterated Trump's support of the measure.

“The President has been very clear to me that he supports our legislation. He opposed the actions that were taken by the Attorney General to reverse the Cole Memorandum, and believes that we need to fix this and that is why he believes the STATES Act is the right way to do this," he said in the news conference announcing the measure.

There are several pillars to the STATES Act, which would change federal code to give more leeway to states where marijuana is legal after the Cole Memo was rescinded in January 2018 by former Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

After some states expanded their programs last year, there are now 47 states, Washington, D.C., several territories and tribal nations that allow the possession or sale of marijuana or marijuana-based products – either medically, recreationally or both. Medical marijuana has been legal in Colorado since 2000 and the state started selling recreational marijuana in 2014 after voters approved a measure in 2012 with a 55-percent majority.

This year’s measure would amend the Controlled Substances Act so that states and tribes complying with state or tribal law would no longer see many of the act’s provisions apply. But it would continue to prohibit the endangerment of human life while manufacturing controlled substances and bar anyone under age 18 from working in the marijuana industry.

Other pillars of the STATES Act include prohibiting the sale or distribution of marijuana to people under age 21 and prohibiting the sale or distribution at federal transportation facilities like truck stops and rest areas.

The Government Accountability Office would be ordered to study the effects of legal marijuana on traffic safety and states’ testing standards and clarify banking and financial regulations between states where marijuana is legal and the federal financial system.

The measure has support from a host of various banking, civil rights and drug policy organizations.

“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. This is an issue across America,” Gardner said in a statement.

“The federal government is closing its eyes and plugging its ears while 47 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,” he added.

“This affirmation in federal law would help ease the challenges currently faced across our state and open up the cannabis industry’s access to banks and loans. This legislation will also remove the threat of federal prosecution for actions that have been legal in our state since 2014,” Neguse said in a statement. “As we work towards cannabis legalization at the federal level and re-writing our outdated laws on this issue, I’m proud to support this important first step to ensure harmony between our federal and state laws.”

Gardner, Warren, Blumenauer and Joyce all introduced last year’s bicameral bill as well. The Senate version never went anywhere while the House version was referred to a House Judiciary subcommittee, where its progress halted in late July.

In 2018, Reps. Doug Lamborn and Scott Tipton – both Republicans – were the only two Colorado members of Congress not to cosponsor the STATES Act last year. Denver7 has reached out to the current members to see which aside from Gardner, Bennet and Neguse will cosponsor this year’s measure.

Gardner also tried to introduce an amendment to a criminal justice reform bill in December that would have mirrored the STATES Act language, but it was rejected by Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa. He vowed at the time to continue to push for the STATES Act to get a Senate vote, but it will be up to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to actually bring the measure to the floor and to committee.

The measure was unveiled Thursday, a day after the city of Denver wrote to U.S. Attorney General William Barr and the members of Congress from Colorado asking for clarification on how the feds plan to interact with states and territories where marijuana is legal. At least two Denver residents were denied naturalization because of their work in Colorado’s marijuana industry.