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David Hodes has written for many cannabis publications, and organized or moderated sessions at national and international cannabis trade shows. He was voted the 2018 Journalist of the Year by Americans for Safe Access, the world’s largest medical cannabis advocacy organization.
Two new bills creating significant legislative movement put cannabis on the road to legalization
Full legalization? Well, it’s beginning to look like a no-brainer.
There are now 47 states where some form of cannabis is legal. A recent poll by CBS News (1) found that 65 percent of those polled agreed that cannabis should be legal for adult use. “Sadly it’s the federal government that is out of step,” Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) said in an April 4 press conference on the Hill, announcing the introduction of the Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States (STATES) Act. The STATES Act says that if a cannabis business operates within the cannabis laws of the state, then what they are doing is legal under federal law.
“This is an opportunity for us to finally break the logjam in Congress,” Blumenauer said. “If we get this STATES Act bill on the floor of the House and the floor of the Senate, there is no doubt that we will be able to end the failed policy of prohibition.”
This Congress, composed of one of the more cannabis-friendly House memberships ever (the last session failed to move over 60 cannabis-related bills), appears to be heading to a sort of legalization finish line-or maybe a back and forth showdown of sorts that will likely get tougher in the Senate.
The STATES Act announcement comes on the heels of another popular cannabis reform bill, the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Act, designed to offer protections to any bank working with a cannabis business that follows state law. The House Financial Services Committee had a hearing on February 7 to discuss the bill, which now has 166 co-sponsors. After the hearings, the committee then went through a three-day markup process before voting to approve the amended version 45-15 (which included 11 Republicans) on March 28. It’s now sitting in the Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security with the hopes that it will find its way to the House and Senate sometime either later this spring or early this summer.
Cannabis legalization is not just an issue heating up among congressional lawmakers – it’s become part of the political scene that can’t be avoided by any politician. “You are watching a sea change on the politics of cannabis,” Blumenauer said during the press conference. “I will guarantee that there will never be an anti-cannabis candidate who is elected president of the U.S.”
Senator Cory Gardner (R-CO), speaking at the same press conference, said that he has talked to President Trump about marijuana reform and the STATES Act (Trump has indicated in the past his acceptance of legalizing medical marijuana – but not so much on recreational). “The president has been very clear to me that he supports our legislation, and that he opposed the actions taken by Attorney General Jeff Sessions to reverse the Cole Memo (that ended some of the protections for medical cannabis operations) and believes that we need to fix this,” Gardner said. “That is why he believes that the STATES Act is the way to do this.”
Gardner predicted that the bill will sail through Congress. “This is a very simple pass,” he predicted. “It passes overwhelmingly, and it passes with bipartisan support,” he says.
Attorney General William Barr weighed in about the STATES Act during an appropriations committee hearing on April 10 (2), saying that the “situation is intolerable” and that he would support a “more federalism approach where the states can make their own decisions within the framework of federal law.”
Already, the American Bankers Association (ABA) (3) and the Credit Union National Association (CUNA) (4) support both bills (A CUNA representative also testified in support of the SAFE Act during the financial services committee hearing) – a huge advantage for the future of both bills in Congress, and another indication that the cannabis industry is beginning to find common ground as a legitimate business across different business platforms, with lawmakers in Washington, D.C. finally moving significant pieces of legislation.
In a phone interview on April 19 (“Celebrating 420 eve”), Blumenauer said that once the STATES Act bill gets to the House, it will find a receptive audience. "(Speaker of the House) Nancy Pelosi is a supporter of cannabis reform,” Blumenauer said. “I am confident that the bill will move through the legislative process and score victories in the House.”
As for the Senate, Blumenauer said that he was not quite as optimistic. “But I am not pessimistic. I have seen people evolve on this issue. And if I were in (Senate Majority Leader) Mitch McConnell’s shoes, with elections coming in 2020, I wouldn’t make cannabis a target. I would just let the legislative process work.”