Decriminalize marijuana at the federal level? Colorado officials react to Schumer announcement

Sen. Gardner has his own marijuana legislation coming soon. Mayor Hancock hopes the country can follow Denver’s lead. Here’s what other Colorado elected officials are saying.
8 min. read
U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner. The 2018 Republican State Assembly on the campus of the University of Colorado Boulder, April 14, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

U.S. Senator Cory Gardner. The 2018 Republican State Assembly on the campus of the University of Colorado Boulder, April 14, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer on Friday announced a plan to decriminalize cannabis at the federal level, sparking a mixture of reactions among Colorado legislators and elected officials.

In a series of tweets later in the day, the Democrat from New York said he plans on introducing legislation in the U.S. Senate to decriminalize marijuana. His bill would support public THC research, ensure ads for cannabis don't target kids and make sure there's funding available for businesses in the legal marijuana industry.

Lawmakers have sought in recent congressional sessions to take marijuana off the list of federal controlled substances, but the measures have gained meager support.

One such bill filed last year by Rep. Thomas Garrett, R-Va., has 27 Democratic co-sponsors and six Republican co-sponsors out of 430 members now in the House.

That's a slight improvement from the previous Congress when legislation from Democratic Rep. Jared Polis, calling for marijuana to be treated like alcohol, gained 19-co-sponsors in the House.

The House also has its own "Cannabis Caucus," also featuring Polis. Four lawmakers started the group last year to keep federal policies from interfering with states as they enact laws allowing for recreational or medical marijuana.

Schumer's press release cited how the war on drugs has "disproportionally" affected people of color and passing the legislation could be a step in helping these communities. The proposed bill would decriminalize weed by removing it from the list of scheduled substances in the U.S. Controlled Substance Act of 1970.

"My thinking – as well as the general population’s views – on the issue has evolved, and so I believe there’s no better time than the present to get this done," Schumer said in the release. "It’s simply the right thing to do. This legislation would let the states be the laboratories that they should be, ensure that woman and minority owned business have a fair shot in the marijuana industry, invests in critical research on THC, and ensures that advertisers can’t target children – it’s a balanced approach. ”

We've reached out to elected officials in the state and in Washington about the proposal.

Here's what we know right now.

(Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Gov. John Hickenlooper

Party: Democrat

Basically: Hickenlooper talked to Rolling Stone this month about speaking to feds about Colorado's recreational marijuana industry. He said there hasn't been a major uptick in marijuana consumption since legalization and the state has generated millions in annual revenue to pay for anti-drug advertising. He also spoke to CNN on Friday about the only way he would possibly consider reinstating a ban on marijuana in the state.

From the statement: "Decriminalizing cannibis makes sense. There is far greater benefit from a focus on major challenges like heroin, meth and human trafficking."

(Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock

Party: Democrat

Basically: Hancock thinks Denver has a lot to teach other cities about how to regulate marijuana.

From the statement: "Denver has proven legalizing marijuana can be successful with the proper focus on regulation, enforcement and education. We stand ready to provide information to lawmakers about our successful implementation of marijuana legalization so they can make educated decisions in the best interests of our country."

(Chloe Aiello/Denverite)

Sen. Michael Bennet

Party: Democrat

Basically: He doesn't respond directly about the idea of federal decriminalization. Earlier this year, Bennet joined Gardner in requesting the U.S. Treasury keep rules allowing banks and credit unions to serve cannabis companies. He also asked U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions to rescind his cancellation of the Cole Memorandum, which updated federal government policies on marijuana after states started introducing bills and ballot referendums to allow recreational marijuana use.

From the statement: “Michael intends to review Senator Schumer’s legislation. He is pleased that more members of the Senate are recognizing that we should respect the decisions states make on marijuana.”

(Jessica Taves for Denverite)

Sen. Cory Gardner

Party: Republican

Basically: Gardner can boast one of the year's biggest pro-marijuana victories after announcing last week he had struck a deal with President Trump's administration to keep the guidelines in the Cole Memorandum in place. It appears to ensure that the feds won't try to meddle with Colorado's legal marijuana industry.

From the statement: "Senator Gardner has not seen any legislative text from Senator Schumer so he would need to see it before commenting on the specifics, but Senator Gardner’s bipartisan leadership on protecting Colorado has helped get President Trump on board with his legislative approach and that leadership will continue.

"Senator Gardner is about to introduce bipartisan legislation with Senator Elizabeth Warren that will protect states’ rights to determine for themselves how best to address marijuana. He is working closely with colleagues on both sides of the aisle to gain their support to protect states’ rights."

(Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Rep. Diana DeGette (Denver)

Party: Democrat

Basically: She's listening.

From the statement: “This proposal is a bold step forward that deserves discussion. But in the meantime, it’s important to keep moving forward on legislation to protect Coloradans right away, such as my bipartisan Respect States’ and Citizens’ Rights Act (H.R. 2528), which would prevent federal preemption of state laws related to marijuana.”

(Sara Hertwig for Denverite)

Rep. Jared Polis (Boulder)

Party: Democrat

Basically: Polis is a member of the Cannabis Caucus in Congress. He spent Friday touring a marijuana dispensary in Northglenn and broadcasting his visit live on Facebook. He said 4/20 used to be a day of protest, but it's now turned into a day of celebration marking the success of marijuana regulation in Colorado. He touted how the industry has put drug dealers out of business, generated tax revenue, created lots of jobs and helped keep marijuana out of the hands of kids.

From the statement: “I am thrilled to have more and more Members of Congress saying it’s time to lift the federal prohibition on marijuana.  For years, I have moved forward the Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act, and it is past time we allow states to do that, if they so choose.

"I started the Cannabis Caucus to educate Members of Congress on cannabis, and it is reassuring to hear Sen. Schumer talk about de-scheduling marijuana now.  It has always been absurd that marijuana is classified as a Schedule I drug alongside heroin.”

(U.S. House/Public Domain)

Rep. Scott Tipton (Western Colorado)

Party: Republican

Basically: Tipton ripped Attorney General Jeff Sessions when his Department of Justice made moves that could have threatened Colorado's marijuana industry. His position was a states' rights position, which suggests he might be open to a version of the legislation Gardner is proposing. As for Schumer's planned federal decriminalization proposal? Well, he hasn't gotten back to us.

From the statement: No statement yet.

(U.S. House/Public Domain)

Rep. Ken Buck (Greeley and eastern plains)

Party: Republican

Basically: Buck was against legalization in Colorado.

As recently as January was also among the Republicans pushing back against the threat of Sessions cracking down on all marijuana users.

From the statement: No statement yet.

(U.S. House/Public Domain)

Doug Lamborn (Colorado Springs)

Party: Republican

Basically: Lamborn told CPR in March that he'd like to see marijuana reclassified so it could be used for medical research, but "I'm not sure I could support going beyond that."

We haven't heard back from his office.

From the statement: No statement yet.

(Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Rep. Mike Coffman (Aurora)

Party: Republican

Basically: He's against it.

From the statement: “I would not support a national legislative effort to legalize marijuana. As I have said in the past, I believe in each state’s ability to make their own decisions on legalization within its borders, and that the federal government, and its laws, should respect each state’s policies regarding marijuana.”

(Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Rep. Ed Perlmutter (Lakewood)

Party: Democrat

Basically: He's been working to make it easier for banks to work with cannabis businesses.

From the statement: “I’m glad to see growing support in Congress for addressing how to align state and federal laws regarding marijuana. Colorado has proven that states can create a responsible regulatory framework. I have been urging Congress to act on this issue since 2013, and I hope any legislative solution starts with passing my SAFE Banking Act which allows legitimate marijuana businesses access to banking services.

Fixing the banking system will ensure a strong regulated environment for marijuana sales and continue to curtail the black market. We’ve come too far to backtrack on this issue now. It’s time to find a real solution that will keep our communities safe and respect the will of voters in the majority of states in our country.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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