Gardner plays the states’ rights card for legal weed

The Republican senator has introduced an attachment to a bill helping protect Colorado’s cannabis industry and others across the country.
3 min. read
Sen. Cory Gardner speaks during a press conference with Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke and Rep. Ed Perlmutter to announce a new partnership between the Colorado School of Mines and U.S. Geological Survey. Denver Athletic Club, Oct. 22, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Sen. Cory Gardner on Monday introduced an amendment to a criminal justice bill extending some protection to Colorado's recreational and medicinal marijuana industries.

A release from the Republican senator's office said if adopted, the amendment to the First Step Act would ensure "each state has the right to determine for itself the best approach to marijuana within its borders."

The First Step Act is a bill focusing on making some changes in the federal criminal justice system, according to Vox, including letting more people out of prison earlier and reducing future prison sentencing. The bill passed the Republican-led House of Representatives earlier this year and is supported by President Trump.

NPR reported the Senate was scheduled to start considering the First Step Act on Monday.

Citing the recent 227th anniversary of the ratification of the 10th Amendment to the Constitution, Gardner said there was no better way of "honoring" that milestone than by attaching his proposed amendment to the First Step Act. The 10th Amendment is often cited as supporting state's rights.

Gardner's amendment mirrors the STATES Act, which was co-introduced by Gardner and U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren in June. The amendment introduced by Gardner on Monday would change the Controlled Substance Act so that its provisions would no longer apply to any person in compliance with state or tribal laws related to marijuana activities. This would be extended as long as states and tribes "comply with a few basic protections."

The Denver Post reported the amendment would not remove marijuana's classification as a Schedule I drug (so it would remain illegal in states that haven't legalized it) and would allow federally-insured banks to accept money from cannabis businesses.

"While we are debating criminal justice reform, we need to address the threat of prosecution by the federal government for people in Colorado that are operating legal businesses under state law," Gardner said in the release.

He noted 47 states allow some form of legalized cannabis, citing polls showing majority support for recreational marijuana legalization and medical marijuana.

"The people are speaking," Gardner said in the release. "The states are leading. It's time for Congress to act to protect states' rights. I call on my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to take up and pass this important amendment today."

The release said federal criminal provisions under the CSA that would still apply include prohibiting the following: endangering a human life while manufacturing marijuana; employment of persons under age 18 in drug operations; distribution of marijuana at transportation safety facilities such as rest areas and truck stops; and distribution or sale of marijuana to persons under the age of 21 other than for medical purposes.

The release said the amendment would extend its protections to Washington, D.C., U.S. territories and federally recognized tribes.

Gardner in April said the Justice Department had agreed not target Colorado's legal marijuana weed industry after President Trump's administration agreed to keep guidelines outlined in the Cole Memorandum in place.

The latest available figures from the Colorado Department of Revenue show $1.3 billion in total marijuana sales this year between January through October. The figure includes recreational and medical marijuana.

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