With a new Congress and an Attorney General nominee who has expressed during his confirmation hearings that he prefers a federal approach over a bi-fold system in which federal and local laws can be opposing, let’s have a look at the bills currently introduced to Congress, or slated to be reintroinduced from last Congress.
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William Barr, Trump’s nominee to succeed Jeff Sessions as Attorney General, expressed during his confirmations hearings that he himself would prefer a federal law “that prohibits marijuana everywhere”, but at the same he said he wouldn’t go after companies which relied on the Cole memo.
While not explicitly expressing support for the Cole memo, or pledging to restore it, Barr’s views did bring a degree of comfort to the sector after the hostile Sessions’ era.
Additionally, Barr implied understanding the zeitgeist and said that he preferred a federal consistent law over the current situation, which is “untenable” in his words because of the discrepancy between federal and states law. A discrepancy he feels should be removed with a “federal approach” that “allows states to have their own laws” or, alternatively, enforce the federal law as written and enacted. A decision — a binary choice- he refers to Congress.
Attorney General nominee William Barr - Photo by Andrew Harnik, via AP Photo
“It’s incumbent on Congress to make a decision,” Barr said.
Luckily for us, and American (M)MJ users, Congress is serious about things and several bills are waiting revision and possible voting.
The most obvious one, albeit not the longest one pending, is Rep. Blumenauer’s The Regulate Marijuana Like Acohol Act (HR420), which seeks to deschedule marijuana and remove it from the Controlled Substances Act.
Other bills, several of which seems to be winning bipartisan support, include:
- The Marijuana Justice Act (PDF), which would decriminalize cannabis and enact additional criminal justice reforms
- The Carers Act, introduced earlier this year by Reps. Steve Cohen (D-TN) and Don Young (R-AK). This bill would protect medical cannabis programs and allow states to legalize and regulate themselves. At the same time it would also expand medical access to veterans, through the US Department of Veterans Affairs
- The Sensible Enforcement of Cannabis Act, which would enshrine the rescinded Cole memorandum into federal law. The act was introduced earlier this year by Rep. Lou Correa (D-CA) and co-signed with bipartisan support by six more Reps in the House
- The States Act (PDF), which would finally allow financial institutions to enter the legal cannabis market. The Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Trough Entrusting States” Act also benefits bipartisan support and was introduced by Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Cory Garndener (R-CO). The STATES act aims to cover the discrepancy between federally regulated financial institutions who can not touch anything considered a Schedule 1 drug and local legalized markets.
With the AG nominee explicitly stating that the responsibility is upon Congress, and not also to be defined by him, all focus now goes once again to Capitol Hill. While not explicitly expressing support for reassurance of the Cole memorandum, Barr seems to support that Congress has the final word and his possible “do no harm” approach can open the opportunity for Capitol Hill to do much good in 2019.
There will undoubtedly be many long and intense debates over most of the bills introduced already, but a consistent and modern federal approach is absolutely needed. And, after the Sessions’ era, we could potentially see this happen this year already.