Americans support the legalization of marijuana like never before. A recent poll by Quinnipiac University shows 63 percent support full legalization and 93 percent support medical legalization. Federal law, however, continues to lag behind this change in popular opinion, which also opposes, by a 70-to-23-percent margin, enforcement of federal marijuana law in states in which marijuana is legal. A U.S. senator from Colorado, however, is seeking to change federal law.
Colorado Senator Cory Gardner, a Republican, has met with Democrat Elizabeth Warren and other legislators to propose a states’ rights bill that would protect the marijuana industry in legal states. The bill would be moderate in its ambitions. For example, it would not change the Schedule 1 status of marijuana under federal rules. The bill would, however, address such issues as bank accounts, taxes, and research.
Trump or Sessions?
Until last April, Gardner was holding President Donald Trump to his campaign promises in support of legalization, including a federal hands-off law. Gardner blocked appointments to the Department of Justice until Trump’s attorney general, Jeff Sessions, relaxed his opposition to all things marijuana. This resulted in a phone call in which Trump promised Gardner that the federal government would leave Colorado’s marijuana industry alone.
During the campaign, Trump expressed different views on legalization. He hinted at general legalization as a way of ending the war on drugs, which he said we are losing. He also said that medical marijuana “should happen,” but that Colorado is having “big problems” with its legalization program, without providing specifics.
It appears, however, that after calling Gardner, Trump forgot to call Sessions, who has revoked the Cole memo, the policy statement of the Obama administration declaring that federal law enforcement agencies would find other things to do besides enforce federal marijuana law in legal states. Sessions recently testified before a Senate subcommittee that, as attorney general, he has no choice but to enforce federal law.
In January, Warren and 53 of her fellow lawmakers, including Republicans, sent a letter to Trump requesting reinstatement of the Cole memo. The rescission of its policy, the letter states, “has the potential to unravel efforts to build sensible drug policies that encourage economic development as we finally move away from antiquated practices that have hurt disadvantaged communities.” There is no indication in news stories that Trump has responded to the letter.
Given these circumstances, it is no surprise that Gardner does not expect it will be easy to pass his proposed law. The tide does seem to be turning, however, as legalization appears likely in additional states. Another sign is that John Boehner, a Republican and former Speaker of the House, has joined Acreage Holdings, a multistate marijuana business. Boehner was previously opposed to marijuana legalization. And Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican from Kentucky, is now firmly in support of his state’s hemp industry, which is second only to Colorado’s. To date, however, there is no record of Gardner’s having moved forward with his bill.
What do you think: Does Trump keep his promises? Is Colorado the only state that the feds will leave alone? Leave a comment below.