The effort to begin legalization of cannabis across the United States has gotten a strong advocate in the form of President Trump. Last month Trump answered questions on the White House lawn and marijuana reform was brought up. Trump responded by endorsing STATES (Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States), which is a bill brought on by Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). Both Massachusetts and Colorado have legalized recreational cannabis. When asked if he supported the bill Trump responded with a firm: “I really do. I support Sen. Gardner. I know exactly what he’s doing. We’re looking at it, but we’ll probably end up supporting that, yes.”
The STATES bill would amend the Controlled Substances Act to make it inapplicable in states, federal territories and tribal lands that have passed some type of cannabis legalization initiative. Amending the Controlled Substances Act essentially means dropping cannabis from a Schedule 1 drug to a lower level out of the category of heroin and various opioids for those states that have endorsed legalization. The bill would require the federal government to respect the decisions of states regarding cannabis legalization. The bill is an agreement between Democrats and Republicans that lets those who would prefer full legalization and those who prefer the status quo to agree to disagree without affecting states that have made their own decisions.
Erik Altieri, executive director of NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws) feels that Trumps comment “is a big deal” because this would be the first bicameral, bipartisan bill regarding cannabis ever introduced on a federal level. The relationship with the Trump administration and cannabis has been rocky ever since Attorney General Jeff Sessions expressed his hostility against cannabis by rescinding Obama-era guidelines that protected states that have legalized recreational use. “It’s a first step, but it’s a big first step,” says Altieri. “It would essentially codify the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment (which forbids the Justice Department from spending money going after state-legal medical marijuana efforts) but extend that to states that have legalized recreational pot.”
The STATES Act has a good chance at becoming law because it has the right backers. First off, President Trump, then 12 bipartisan Governors and seven bipartisan co-sponsors in Congress. The return to federalism can deem to be very promising since it is a constitutional principle of returning power to the states. There is good precedent that federalism can solve difficult policy problems. The 1996 welfare reform, passed by a Republican Congress and signed by President Bill Clinton, is arguably one of the most successful pieces of legislation in a generation. At this time in American politics federalism could provide an extremely resourceful foundation for policy-making in what seems to be a country split on many issues. Those who are advocates of cannabis reform should take this as being very good news, but it still goes to show that we have a long way to go in the effort to bring full legalization and re-education to all states.
By Tracy Jerome Chisley (@PoeticPanther)
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