Colorado Reps Introduce Federal Bill to Respect Pot Laws

Buds in one of Denver's many grows.
Buds in one of Denver's many grows. Lindsey Barlett
Two Coloradans in the House of Representatives, Diana DeGette and Mike Coffman, introduced a bill today, May 18, that would protect states with legal marijuana from the Trump administration and the Republican-controlled Congress.

The Respect States' and Citizens' Rights Act of 2017 would prohibit Congress from suing or ordering raids on recreational and medical marijuana retailers and producers. A would-be amendment to the Controlled Substances Act, the main mechanism of federal marijuana prohibition, this bill is an ambitious attempt to shield Coloradans from federal charges.

"This bill makes clear that we're not going back to the days of raids on legal dispensaries, of folks living in fear that they're not going to get the medical marijuana they need, or that they might get jailed because of it," said DeGette in a statement.

The age of Trump could mean a sea change for pot laws. In February, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said that Trump would like to see "greater enforcement" of federal marijuana laws.

“Passing this bill is now more important than ever before,” DeGette wrote, adding that she does not want "the federal government denying money to our states or taking other punitive steps that would undermine the will of our citizens. Lately, we’ve had even more reason for these concerns, given Trump administration statements."

State drug laws are superseded by federal drug policies such as the Controlled Substances Act, which is enforced by the Drug Enforcement Administration. Marijuana remains a Schedule I drug, which means that it is treated the same as heroin and LSD. A federal bust of a mid-level pot cultivator with between 50 and 99 plants could bring a fine of $1,000,000 and a twenty-year sentence.

However, the actual enforcement of drug policy can vary significantly across administrations without the law actually changing. Pot thrived under President Obama, who announced in 2013 that his administration would not challenge Colorado and Washington, which passed the first round of recreational marijuana laws. Medical marijuana laws, now in 29 states and Washington, D.C., were also left alone.

The bill is likely to face resistance from Republicans, who officially called for consistency between federal, state and local pot policies last July and refuted an attempt to include marijuana reform on the party's platform.

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Grant Stringer has covered everything from high-powered energy politics at the Capitol to reproductive rights and homelessness. He can typically be found running to press conferences in the heat of the summer while playing Fugazi and Ty Segall songs as loud as is humanly possible.
Contact: Grant Stringer