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Marijuana: Mike Coffman, Amendment 64 opponent, to back federal exemption bill

Update below: Representative Mike Coffman, a Republican, is announcing today his support of legislation that would exempt Colorado from federal marijuana policy. It's a noteworthy move from Coffman, who is against the legalization of marijuana but respects Colorado's ballot process and the support Amendment 64 received last week, when voters chose to legalize small amounts of pot for adult use.

As we noted earlier this week, Democratic representatives Diana DeGette, Ed Perlmutter and Jared Polis have been drafting legislation that would make Colorado exempt from policies at the federal level, at which marijuana remains illegal.

Since Amendment 64 passed, state officials have already been in conversation with the federal government about how to deal with this complicated discrepancy.

DeGette's office is expected to introduce the legislation today; it would exempt Colorado from the federal Controlled Substances Act.

Coffman, who was reelected to represent Colorado's sixth congressional district, says he supports the voters' choice.

In a press release announcing the bipartisan support the bill has now received -- expected to be sent out later today -- Coffman's statement, passed along to us by his office, says, "I voted against Amendment 64 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."

Diana DeGette.
Diana DeGette.

Update, November 16, 1:15 p.m: This afternoon, Congresswoman Diana DeGette's office released official details on the legislation to which Mike Coffman has signed on. It's called the "Respect States' and Citizens' Rights Act," and it would ensure that state laws regarding marijuana will not be preempted by the federal government.

And Coffman isn't the only newly elected or reelected official to offer support -- though, in the latest press release, he remains the sole Republican listed. In addition to expected backing from Colorado Representative Jared Polis, Oregon's Earl Blumenauer, Tennessee's Steve Cohen and California's Sam Farr are also co-sponsoring the measure, which was introduced today.

The bill, DeGette's office says, is designed to address concerns about the federal government's ability to override the voter-approved initiatives in Colorado and Washington state, which also passed a marijuana measure last week. In addition, the legislation would provide guidance for the courts, DeGette says.

"Today, I am proud to join with colleagues from both sides of the aisle on the 'Respect States' and Citizens' Rights Act' to protect states' rights and immediately resolve any conflict with the federal government," DeGette says in a statement. "In Colorado we've witnessed the aggressive policies of the federal government in their treatment of legal medicinal marijuana providers. My constituents have spoken and I don't want the federal government denying money to Colorado or taking other punitive steps that would undermine the will of our citizens."

The bill, on full view below, functions as an amendment to the Controlled Substances Act, declaring that state law would not be preempted by the CSA.

Continue for the full press release and for the official bill.

Here's the full news release from DeGette's office:

DEGETTE ANNOUNCES INTRODUCTION OF BIPARTISAN LEGISLATION TO RESPECT STATES' RIGHTS ON MARIJUANA

WASHINGTON -- Today, U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette (CO-1) joined with Democratic and Republican colleagues to announce the introduction of the "Respect States' and Citizens' Rights Act" which would ensure that state laws regarding marijuana will not be pre-empted by the federal government.

In last week's elections, voters In Colorado and Washington State passed state laws legalizing marijuana by six and ten point margins, respectively. Immediately, several lawmakers expressed concern about the federal government's ability to override these voter-approved initiatives and the states' rights to exercise the will of their citizens. The "Respect States' and Citizens' Rights Act" addresses that concern, clarifies Congressional intent, and provides guidance for the courts.

"Today I am proud to join with colleagues from both sides of the aisle on the 'Respect States' and Citizens' Rights Act' to protect states' rights and immediately resolve any conflict with the federal government," said Rep. DeGette. "In Colorado we've witnessed the aggressive policies of the federal government in their treatment of legal medicinal marijuana providers. My constituents have spoken and I don't want the federal government denying money to Colorado or taking other punitive steps that would undermine the will of our citizens."

"I voted against Amendment 64 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," said Rep. Mike Coffman (CO-6).

"The people of Colorado and Washington voted in overwhelming numbers to regulate the sale of marijuana. Colorado officials and law enforcement are already working to implement the will of Colorado voters, and I look forward to continuing to work with my colleagues in Congress and officials in the administration to deliver clear guidance that ensures the will of the people is protected," said Rep. Jared Polis (CO-2).

"Residents of Colorado and Washington have made it clear that the public is ahead of the federal government in terms of marijuana legalization," said Rep. Earl Blumenauer (OR-3). "It's time for Congress to pass legislation - such as the 'Respect States' and Citizens' Rights Act' - that allows states to implement their own laws in this area without fear of federal interference."

"All across the country, states are choosing to reform their marijuana laws. As Justice Brandeis observed, states are the 'laboratories of democracy' and they should be given the opportunity to go forward with this social experiment," said Rep. Steve Cohen (TN-9). "I'm proud to cosponsor this important bill, which will ensure that the federal government respects the people's judgment."

"The federal government's failure to develop a reasonable approach towards the varying state marijuana use laws has made this legislation necessary," said Rep. Sam Farr (CA-17). "From increased raids on legal dispensaries to denying defendants in court the right to present evidence of their legal marijuana use, the federal government has chosen to trample on state rights rather than work with them as a partner to address this issue."

And here's the official bill.

Respect States' and Citizens' Rights Act

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Follow Sam Levin on Twitter at @SamTLevin. E-mail the author at Sam.Levin@Westword.com.