While some lawmakers remain convinced that simply attaching a few riders to a federal spending bill will protect legal marijuana states from the wrath of federal prosecution, others understand that a more concrete policy needs to be put into place before the cannabis industry can exist without the risk of catching Uncle Sam’s ire.
One of those wise legislative forces is Congresswoman Suzan DelBene of Washington, who recently introduced a proposal to the U.S. House of Representatives aimed at stopping the federal government from interfering with states that have legalized cannabis. DelBene’s bill is unique because it is set up to create a stable environment where the federal government has no legal recourse against businesses or people engaged in legal marijuana as long as they remain in compliance with their individual state laws.
The bill is called the “State Marihuana and Regulatory Tolerance Enforcement Act” and it seeks to effectively amend a section of the Controlled Substances Act that would enable states, businesses, people and patients to have protection from the wrath of federal raids and prison. The bill is designed to initialize an application process by which states can petition the U.S. Attorney General’s office for a “waiver” that endorses the enactment of a policy for legal marijuana “that is sufficient to protect Federal interests.” These supposed interests will be protected by each state’s reassurance that nine key points are adhered to, including the prevention of minor consumption and stoned driving.
Under this proposal, once a legal marijuana state has been issued a “waiver,” it would be the responsibility of its officials to conduct regular studies and file yearly reports with the U.S. Attorney General, which will provide detailed statistics covering minor consumption rates, driving under the influence, diversion into other states and the impact a legal market has had on the black market trade.
“These waivers will ensure people in states that have different laws than the federal government on marijuana are protected from prosecution, provided they meet certain requirements, as more and more states work to regulate marijuana in their own borders,” Representative DelBene said in a statement.
The latest legislative effort, which was drafted to give legal pot states some sense of real protection from the federal drug laws, closely resembles another measure submitted to the House earlier this year by Representative Dana Rohrabacher. The “Respect State Marijuana Laws Act of 2015,” similar to DelBene’s proposal, would prevent federal interference in state marijuana laws by making a minor adjustment to the Controlled Substances Act.
While DelBene’s bill, which has been referred to a House subcommittee for review, does contain a bit more meat than the one submitted in April by Rohrabacher, the implication of both measures is that approval of either one would basically repeal prohibition at the national level. Unlike attaching riders to federal spending bills that prevent government funds from being used to prosecute in cannabis states, both of these bills would create a solid policy that would keep law-biding members of the marijuana community out of harms way.
Although there likely will not be enough Republican backing on either proposal to see them to the next level; it is reasonable to speculate that the latest outpouring of support for states’ rights may have some influence on Capitol Hill. In addition to a new Public Policy Poll showing Republican voters in the early primary states of Iowa and New Hampshire want the federal government to leave legal marijuana states alone, the majority of the presidential candidates have said that they oppose federal drug enforcement cracking down on states that have legalized for medical or recreational purposes.
So, it is possible that the Democrats and Republicans will see eye-to-eye on this issue in the coming months, but highly unlikely. There are currently over 20 marijuana-related bills sitting idle in Congress, including the infamous CARERS Act, but none of them have budged due to lack of Republican interest.
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