Marijuana: Jared Polis signs on to latest bill asking feds to respect state pot laws
Despite ramped-up pressure from national media outlets, the federal government still has not offered a response to the December 10 signing of Amendment 64, which allows adults 21 and over in Colorado to use and possess small amounts of marijuana.
Into this vacuum have stepped a number of legislators, including Colorado Representative Jared Polis, who's co-sponsoring a bill calling for the feds to let state cannabis measures stand.
The latest bill, introduced on Friday, is entitled the "Respect State Marijuana Laws Act of 2013."
Sponsored by California Representative Dana Rohrbacher and on view below, it's a very succinct proposal. The legislation calls for an amendment to one section of the Controlled Substances Act, which currently treats marijuana as a Schedule I narcotic with no acknowledged medical efficacy. The new section, featuring the antiquated "marihuana" spelling used in the CSA, reads:
Notwithstanding any other provision of law, the provisions of this subchapter related to marihuana shall not apply to any person acting in compliance with State laws relating to the production, possession, distribution, dispensation, administration, or delivery of marihuana.
Democrats like Polis aren't the only ones behind Rohrbacher's measure. Fellow Dems Earl Blumenauer (Oregon) and Steve Cohen (Tennessee) are joined in co-sponsorship by Republicans Justin Amash (Michigan) and Don Young (Alaska) -- and Rohrbacher is also a member of the GOP.
"This bipartisan bill represents a common-sense approach that establishes federal government respect for all states' marijuana laws," Rohrabacher maintains in a statement. "It does so by keeping the federal government out of the business of criminalizing marijuana activities in states that don't want it to be criminal."
Polis agrees. In a comment shared by his staff earlier today, he says, "With a majority of Americans supporting marijuana legalization and nineteen states and jurisdictions having already moved forward with decriminalizing marijuana for medical or personal use, it's long past time for the federal government to acknowledge that the war on drugs has failed.
"This bill represents a big step forward in protecting from federal prosecution Americans engaging in activity that is legal in their state, and I'm pleased to join my colleagues from both sides of the aisle in this important effort."
What are the odds that this bill gains traction? Well, it's not the first measure of its type to be introduced since Colorado voters pushed Amendment 64 to victory -- and neither is it the first to win Polis's stamp of approval.
This past November, as we've reported, eighteen legislators signed a letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and DEA administrator Michele Leonhart encouraging them to respect pot laws in Colorado and Washington state, which approved a measure similar to Amendment 64.
In addition, one of the letter's signatories -- Colorado's Diana DeGette -- sponsored a bill called the "Respect States' and Citizens' Rights Act," which took a similar approach to Rohrbacher's proposal. DeGette suggests inserting a "Special Rule Regarding State Marihuana [sic] Laws" into the Controlled Substances Act. It reads:
In the case of any State law that pertains to marihuana, no provision of this title shall be construed as indicating an intent on the part of Congress to occupy the field in which that provision operates, including criminal penalties, to the exclusion of State law on the same subject matter, nor shall any provision of this title be construed as preempting any State law.
Co-sponsors of the DeGette measure included Oregon's Blumenauer, Tennessee's Cohen, California's Sam Farr and not one but two Colorado reps -- Polis and Mike Coffman, a Republican who opposed the passage of Amendment 64.
"I voted against Amendment 64," Coffman confirmed in a statement, "and I strongly oppose the legalization of marijuana, but I also have an obligation to respect the will of the voters given the passage of this initiative, and so I feel obligated to support this legislation."
Coffman didn't sign the aforementioned letter even though it has a similar message. It's on view below in its entirety, but here's an excerpt:
We are writing to urge federal law enforcement to consider carefully the recent decisions by the people of Colorado and Washington to legalize small amounts of marijuana for personal use by adults. Under the new laws, each state will establish a comprehensive regulatory scheme governing the production, sale and personal use of marijuana. We believe that it would be a mistake for the federal government to focus enforcement action on individuals whose actions are in compliance with state law.
As you'll recall, Polis had a memorable encounter with Leonhart in June, during which the DEA administrator repeatedly refused to say that marijuana was any less harmful than heroin. Here's a video of the exchange:
If Rohrbacher's bill is to get further than DeGette's, it'll have to gather support from marijuana activists, and a prominent one -- the Marijuana Majority's Tom Angell -- sees the legislation as a step in the right direction. Still, he's frustrated that so many other members of Congress refuse to joint Rohrbacher and Polis.
In an e-mail to Westword, Angell writes, "It's great to see more members of Congress taking meaningful action to modernize the federal government's outdated marijuana policies. But at a time when polls show that the majority of Americans support legalization and six out of ten say the federal government should stop interfering with state marijuana laws, it's simply embarrassing that more than 90 percent of Congress has done nothing to address the issue.
"As more elected officials start to notice which way the political winds are blowing, though, I do expect to see more action from lawmakers. As with many issues these days, the politicians are behind the people."
Look below to see the letter to Holder and Leonhart. That's followed by Respect States' and Citizens' Rights Act.
More from our Marijuana archive: "Marijuana: Mike Coffman, Amendment 64 opponent, to back federal exemption bill."
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