In the wake the Trump administrations stance on marijuana in legal states, two new bills have been introduced to congress that would protect the rights of individuals in legal and medical states who are complying with state cannabis laws. One bill would rule out federal prosecution for anyone following state laws, while another seeks to end federal cannabis prohibition entirely, removing cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act. Notably, both bills were introduced by Republican representatives. Neither bill would legalize cannabis in all 50 states, but both would allow states greater freedom and security in setting their own policies.
The bills have been introduced at a crucial time, with the Trump White House having signaled greater enforcement of federal law in legal states. The first proposed bill, the Respect State Marijuana Laws Act of 2017 (H.R 975), would protect anyone complying with state laws “relating to the production, possession, distribution, dispensation, administration, or delivery of marihuana” from federal prosecution. This bill was introduced by California representative Dana Rohrabacher, a Republican. Even more importantly, the bill has drawn twelve co-sponsors thus far. Last month, Rohrabacher, along with two Democrats from Oregon and Colorado and a Republican from Alaska, formed the Congressional Cannabis Caucus. This move is yet another important step forward for representing the needs of states that have legalized. Rohrabacher recently said the caucus will ensure a "professional presentation" of how to "keep the momentum going that we've established in these last four and five years." He introduced similar legislation in 2015, but that bill never even received a hearing. Ironically, Rohrabacher was a staunch supporter of Trump’s presidential campaign.
If the bill were passed, laws in prohibition states would not change, and cannabis would technically remain a Schedule I controlled substance. However, it would rule out federal interference in legal states, allowing states to make their own decisions without fear of confrontations with the federal government. The Cannabis Caucus is also seeking to lower cannabis from a Schedule I to a Schedule II classification. “Federal tax dollars should not be wasted on arresting and prosecuting people who are following their state and local laws,” said Rohrabacher.
Another bill, introduced by another Republican representative, Thomas Garrett, of Virginia, would go one step further. The Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2017, as it is called, would remove cannabis from the federal Controlled Substances Act entirely. Determinations on legality would be entirely up to the states, and this is not the first time legislation like this has been proposed. In 2015, Senator Bernie Sanders proposed an almost identical bill. Thomas Garrett said in a statement:
"I have long believed justice that isn't blind, isn't justice. Statistics indicate that minor narcotics crimes disproportionately hurt areas of lower socio-economic status and what I find most troubling is that we continue to keep laws on the books that we do not enforce. Virginia is more than capable of handling its own marijuana policy, as are states such as Colorado or California."
The representative hopes to revive the historically important hemp industry in his state of Virginia. Unlike the Sanders bill, which did not attract any cosponsors, Garrett’s bill has drawn 3 – Hawaii Democrat Tulsi Gabbard, Republican Scott W. Taylor of Virginia, and Democrat Jared Polis of Colorado. While it is essential to mention that the vast majority of bills introduced to congress are never passed, having several cosponsors and bipartisan support are excellent signs that these bills could have a future. Republican support, and the backing of a congressional caucus specifically dedicated to cannabis law, are both new elements for cannabis reform bills.
While it could be a long-shot that congress would pass either bill - essentially decriminalizing cannabis on a federal level - it is clear that such measures have broader support now than ever before. If the cannabis world can rally around these bills the way it did for legalization on the state level, perhaps these bills will become law.