Senators Elizabeth Warren and Corey Gardner are doing what we all wish more politicians would do: legislating from across the aisle in order to bring about the type of governance on cannabis that their constituents are asking for. They've introduced a bipartisan bill, the STATES Act, to the Senate. If passed, it would give states the power to regulate cannabis without any interference by the federal government.
A Partnership Not as Unlikely as You Might Think….
On the surface, Garner and Warren don’t seem like the perfect pair (and it goes beyond the fact he’s a little bit country and she’s a little bit rock-and-roll). He’s Colorado; she’s Massachusetts. He’s conservative; she’s fiercely liberal. But, for her part, Warren called Gardner a “great partner in this fight” and someone who could fix the “broken and outmoded set of laws.”
Gardner found an ally in her as well, stating it “has been a great partnership from the very beginning.”
At the root of this union is their common views. Both find the marijuana laws archaic and overreaching. Warren’s comments have focused on the medicinal benefits. She went on record to say,
“The laws on the books make it harder for veterans to get treatment for chronic pain. They keep children with chronic diseases in agony and they make life miserable for individuals struggling with terminal diseases. The science is clear: Medical marijuana treatments are effective. There is absolutely no reason patients should be prevented from seeking scientifically approved care, but right now, that is the reality for millions of people across the country. These archaic laws don't just hurt individual people. They also hurt businesses that are in the marijuana business from getting access to banking services. That forces a multi-million-dollar industry to operate all in cash. That's bad for business and bad for safety."
She also voiced her opposition to the “widespread discrimination (the) policies foster across our communities” and how they have “devastated communities of color.”
Gardner addressed the concept of states rights, a platform consistent with the Republican party’s values. He said,
“Our founders intended the states to be laboratories of democracy. Many states right now find themselves deep in the heart of that laboratory. As the president said in a conversation with me, 'We can't go backwards. We can only go forward.' The ketchup's not going back in the bottle, as the old saying goes."
But he also admitted that he opposed marijuana legalization in the past when it first appeared on Colorado’s ballot. Now, he believes the measure would pass again by a wider margin.
The Bill Itself
Gardner and Warren hope their bill will do several things. Including:
- Show that federalism works by allowing states to lead
- Uncover the hypocrisy of the marijuana industry (i.e., states can collect taxes, but you can’t get a bank loan to open your dispensary)
- Address public safety by figuring out how to handle the billions of dollars in cash floating around the industry
The bill moves to amend the Controlled Substances Act and make the act inapplicable to states, territories, and tribal cannabis laws. It’s, in part, a reaction to the administration’s hard line against hash. While Donald Trump’s marijuana views have, historically, been all over the place, he campaigned on the promise that the issue was a state’s issue and not a federal one. In April, Warren and Gardner announced their partnership in an effort to hold Trump to his word.
You can read the entire bill here.
Increasing Opposition from the Hill
The more open-minded the American public becomes about cannabis, the more opposed the White House becomes. Jeff Sessions is one of the most outspoken cannabis critics (both medical and recreational) and he’s backed up his hatred with action. In January, he rescinded the Cole Memo. Four months later, he asked Congress to use federal money to prevent states “from implementing their own state laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana.”
He justified his request by linking marijuana to violent crime (a link that studies have repeatedly refuted) and citing the historic drug epidemic plaguing America. Not surprisingly, he failed to mention that the drug epidemic is the result of opiates, not marijuana. This makes it nonsensical – it’s like illegalizing milk since soda is unhealthy.
Sessions, despite his attempts, hasn’t had that much of an impact on the marijuana industry, medical or recreational. States that are legal continue to sell and more and more states are toying with the idea of jumping on the bud bandwagon.
Session’s relationship with Trump also appears fragile. The President has repeatedly turned to Twitter (naturally) to voice his regret about choosing Sessions as his attorney general. That, coupled with the fact that the White House is an ever-rotating cast of characters, is enough to make one wonder how long Sessions will remain in power.
If his dismissal happens, the marijuana industry can take a sigh of relief. Trump may be a weed wildcard, but he has never been as anti-pot as his AG.
If his dismissal doesn’t happen, or the administration continues its stance regardless of who’s in power, Congress is at least doing something.
A Bipartisan Issue
In a politically-charged environment like we’re experiencing today, it seems rare that democrats and republicans can agree on much of anything. But marijuana makes the ideal bipartisan issue and that’s what we’re experiencing: while liberals are more likely to back it, conservatives don’t exactly oppose it.
Legalizing pot means limiting government power, which is at the heart of conservatism – small government equals a better government. And that, for many, is a reason to back legalization. Even people who wouldn’t necessarily smoke pot themselves don’t think the government has a right to tell people what they can do with a doobie.
This gives pot the power to transcend political parties, as evident by the partnership between Gardner and Warren. One of (likely) many more partnerships to come.