For months we have been following the STATES Act, a of piece legislation inked by Senator Cory Gardner (CO-R). The Act would protect cannabis operators and individuals acting in compliance with state laws from federal prosecution. The bill would also give financial institutions legal clarity and flexibility to offer banking solutions to the cannabis industry without fear of federal reprisals.
Gardener attempted to attach the The STATES Act to The First Steps Act, a criminal justice reform bill. However Gardner, and other senators hoping to offer further amendments, were blocked by a procedural maneuver from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
To counter, Gardner then sought unanimous consent to add the STATES Act to the reform bill. Senator Charles Grassley (IA-R) objected to the motion, calling the act a “backdoor to legalization” adding that it was “inconsistent with current federal law and allow(ed) states the right to break the existing law.” Grassley was especially opposed to allowing marijuana companies access to banks, calling it “inappropriate to consider in the context of a criminal justice reform.” Grassley did not call for a formal roll call vote.
Following Grassley’s statement objecting to the decision, Gardner took the floor and gave a passionate 10-minute speech where he pointed out problems that are caused by the federal prohibition in a nation where over half the states have legalized marijuana for medical or recreational use.
According to Gardner, “It’s hard to think about federal criminal justice reform without thinking about the biggest problem that federal criminal law creates for Colorado: the refusal to respect the will of Coloradans when it comes to their decision on marijuana.”
Further, Gardener argues it is unconstitutional to federally prosecute an individual for something the state has legalized. “You shouldn’t go to prison for following state law. That in its essence is sentencing reform”, Gardener said.
The amendment Gardener attempted to introduce mimics a bill he introduced with Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) in June. The senator plans to reintroduce the bill during the next Congressional session.
Tuesday the President gave verbal confirmation that he would sign the bill if it came across his desk. Until then, Gardner will have to remain hopeful that his proposed amendment will go through in 2019.
Over 95% of the US population lives in a state where some form of marijuana is legal. This isn't a fluke, the American people have spoken and this is happening. My amendment to the First Step Act has been blocked, but I will not give up this fight.https://t.co/knL8kgnkOl pic.twitter.com/wQDAx9AONZ— Cory Gardner (@SenCoryGardner) December 18, 2018
Amber Wagner was a contributor to this article.