In-Depth: Sponsoring Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) reintroduced this bill from the 115th Congress to ensure that each state has the right to determine for itself the best approach to marijuana within its borders:
“Our federal marijuana laws are outdated and pose a threat to our public health and safety. Marijuana should be legalized, and we must reverse the harm of these failed policies by wiping clean the records of those unjustly jailed for minor marijuana crimes. Congress should take immediate action on these important issues by passing the bipartisan STATES Act and protecting states, territories, and tribal nations as they implement their own marijuana laws without federal interference.”
When she introduced this bill in the 115th Congress, Sen. Warren framed it as an effort to protect states’ rights to legalize and regulate marijuana:
“Outdated federal marijuana laws have perpetuated our broken criminal justice system, created barriers to research, and hindered economic development. States like Massachusetts have put a lot of work into implementing common sense marijuana regulations -- and they have the right to enforce their own marijuana policies. The federal government needs to get out of the business of outlawing marijuana.”
Last Congress, original cosponsor Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO) added:
“In 2012, Coloradans legalized marijuana at the ballot box and the state created an apparatus to regulate the legal marijuana industry. But because of the one-size-fits-all federal prohibition, state decisions like this put Colorado and other states at odds with the federal government. The federal government is closing its eyes and plugging its ears while 46 states have acted. The bipartisan STATES Act fixes this problem once and for all by taking a states’ rights approach to the legal marijuana question. The bipartisan, commonsense bill ensures the federal government will respect the will of the voters -- whether that is legalization or prohibition -- and not interfere in any states’ legal marijuana industry.”
During a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing in April 2019, Attorney General William Barr expressed support for this bill over the status quo, while still expressing a preference for a uniform federal rule against marijuana:
“Personally, I would still favor one uniform federal rule against marijuana, but if there is no sufficient consensus to obtain that, then I think the way to go is to permit a more federal approach so states can make their own decisions within the framework of federal law, so we’re not just ignoring the enforcement of federal law.”
"The National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) strongly advocates for the recognition of tribal sovereignty and inclusion of tribal governments in national legislation. We appreciate the re-introduction of the STATES Act, which would bring certainty in federal law for tribal nations as separate jurisdictions. Tribal nations, as sovereign governments, and in the spirit of self-determination, must be able to make independent decisions about their own economic, cultural, and social futures at the local, tribal level.”
“While ABA does not take a position on the legalization of cannabis and the STATES Act is not a banking specific bill, removing the federal prohibition on cannabis in states that have legalized its use would allow banks to accept deposits and provide basic financial services to state licensed cannabis businesses and their service providers. That, in turn, would help those communities reduce cash-motivated crimes, increase the efficiency of tax collections, and improve the financial transparency of the cannabis industry."
President Trump expressed his support for this bill in the 115th Congress. However, Janet Seiberg, an analyst at Cowen Washington Research Group, cast doubt on how much the president's endorsement would matter to this bill's odds of passage, saying, "Despite the president's remarks, we don't see the White House fighting for this legislation."
Senate Majority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has expressed his opposition to marijuana legalization in any form, despite introducing a hemp legalization bill in the 115th Congress. At that time, Sen. McConnell drew a distinction between hemp and marijuana, saying, "I do not have any plans to endorse the legalization of marijuana... [Hemp] is a different plant. It has an illicit cousin which I choose not to embrace."
This bill has nine bipartisan Senate cosponsors, including five Republicans and four Democrats. A House version, sponsored by Rep. Earl Blumenauer with the support of 27 bipartisan cosponsors, including 14 Republicans and 13 Democrats, has also been introduced in the current Congress.
Last Congress, this bill had the support of 10 bipartisan cosponsors, including five Democrats and five Republicans. Aside from Gardner, the Republican cosponsors included Sens. Rand Paul (KY), Lisa Murkowski (AK), Jeff Flake (R-AZ) and Dan Sullivan (AK). Democratic cosponsors included Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto (NV), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Cory Booker (NJ), and Michael Bennet (CO). It didn't receive a committee vote.
Summary by Eric Revell
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