Gardner, Warren introduce bill to safeguard states with pot

Author: Joey Bunch - June 7, 2018 - Updated: June 7, 2018


U.S. Sens. Cory Gardner and Elizabeth Warren unveiled legislation Thursday to make it clear that states that adequately regulate marijuana need not fear the federal government.

Colorado, Massachusetts and other states that have legalized marijuana have fretted about intervention from the Trump administration, given Attorney General Jeff Session’s animosity toward pot and the fact that federal law still deems it illegal.

The Obama administration had provided those assurances in what was known as the Cole Memo, but the Trump administration rescinded the memo in January.

The bill from Gardner, Republican of Colorado, and Warren, Democrat of  Massachusetts, is called Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States (STATES) Act.

“Our founders intended the states to be laboratories of democracy,” Gardner said, standing alongside Warren at a U.S. Capitol press conference Thursday morning. “And many states right now find themselves deep in the heart of that laboratory, but it’s created significant conflict between state law and federal law and how do we move forward.”

Gardner characterized outlawing legalized pot as “putting the ketchup back in the bottle.”

He quoted Trump as saying to him, “We can’t go backward. We can only go forward.”

Gardner said he opposed legalization of recreational marijuana in Colorado when it passed in 2012. But he said if the vote were held today, it probably would pass by a bigger majority than the 55 percent it got six years ago.

He calling the hurdles for banking in the marijuana industry “a public hypocrisy,” since the banking industry won’t serve customers who are,  in the eyes of the federal government, outlaws.

“This city of Denver, the state of Colorado, can collect taxes, … they can take it to the bank,” Gardner said. “But if you’re in the business, if you work for the business, you can’t get a bank loan or set up a bank account because of the concern over the conflict between the state and federal law.

“We need to fix this public hypocrisy.”

Warren complimented Gardner’s leadership on the issue “to plow the field here.”

“I’m proud to be in this fight, and I’m proud to have a partner like Cory Gardner,” she said.

The Massachusetts liberal and the Colorado Eastern Plains conservative constitute a political odd couple. They announced their partnership on the pot issue in April, an attempt to hold the president to his word to respect states; rights to manage their own affairs when it comes to marijuana.

A fact sheet on the proposed bill, obtained by Colorado Politics, said it would mend the existing Controlled Substances Act to say it no longer applies to those following state, territory or tribal laws “relating to the manufacture, production, possession, distribution, dispensation, administration or delivery of marijuana.”

“The Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States (STATES) Act ensures that each State has the right to determine for itself the best approach to marijuana within its borders,” according to the outline. “The bill also extends these protections to Washington, D.C, U.S. territories, and federally recognized tribes and contains common-sense guardrails to ensure that states, territories and tribes regulating marijuana do so in a manner that is safe and respectful of the impacts on their neighbors.”

The bill also is expected to take exclude industrial hemp from the definitions of marijuana and clarify that certain business transactions are not trafficking under federal law.

In a media advisory, Warren’s office said the goal of the legislation would be to “ensure that each state has the right to determine for itself the best approach to marijuana within its borders.”

Joey Bunch

Joey Bunch

Joey Bunch is the senior political correspondent for Colorado Politics. He has a 31-year career in journalism, including the last 15 in Colorado. He was part of the Denver Post team that won the Pulitzer Prize in 2013 and is a two-time Pulitzer finalist. His resume includes covering high school sports, the environment, the casino industry and civil rights in the South, as well as a short stint at CNN.