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Congressman Jared Polis has been a vocal defender of legal cannabis in Washington, D.C.
Congressman Jared Polis has been a vocal defender of legal cannabis in Washington, D.C.
Westword file photo

Polis Invokes Tenth Amendment to Protect State Pot Programs in 2019 Federal Budget

Representative Jared Polis has been trying to protect state-compliant cannabis businesses since long before United States Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded nine years' worth of federal pot protections in January. With his latest attempt, Polis is hoping to attach an amendment to the federal government's 2019 fiscal budget.

The McClintock-Polis Amendment, sponsored by Polis and California Congressman Tom McClintock, would protect compliant licensed businesses and users in states where cannabis is legal from persecution by federal agencies funded by the United States Department of Justice, such as the Drug Enforcement Administration, U.S. Marshals and Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Polis and other cannabis-friendly politicians at the state and federal level have renewed their push for legal protection for cannabis businesses, patients and users since Sessions revoked the Cole Memorandum, an Obama-era guideline that instructed prosecutors on how to operate in states where pot is legal, as well as other protections dating back to 2009. Now, in a letter sent March 16 to a House subcommittee that's signed by 58 other representatives, McClintock and Polis say that federal intervention in state cannabis programs would violate the Tenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which defines balance of power between federal and state governments.

"Experiences of states that have legalized marijuana, as compared to the experiences of states that have not, constitute the very 'laboratories' of social economic experiments that were described by Chief Justice Louis Brandeis when he wrote the beauty of the Tenth Amendment," the letter to the heads of the Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies subcommittee reads. "Our constitutional framework has afforded the whole nation the chance to allow states to differ on many matters of public policy, including marijuana."

There haven't been reports of any federal crackdowns on state pot programs since Sessions revoked the protections, and Robert Troyer, the U.S. Attorney for the District of Colorado, has told state lawmakers that the new Sessions Memorandum won't change the way federal prosecutors approach cannabis prosecutions in Colorado. But Polis wants that in writing.

"I'm excited to introduce a bipartisan amendment with Representative McClintock, which would prohibit the Department of Justice from using federal resources to interfere with legal medical and recreational marijuana activities. As I have promised my fellow Coloradans, I will continue to advocate for this simple amendment to be added to the federal budget — shielding Colorado from the Trump administration’s attacks on states that have legalized marijuana,” Polis says in a statement urging the committee to adopt the amendment.

Calling it “a temporary, but urgent and necessary fix," Polis has been pushing the amendment since January, but was unable to attach it to the short-term budget for the current fiscal year. If successfully amended onto the 2019 fiscal budget, the pot-business protections would last from October 1, 2018, to September 30, 2019.

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