Diane DeGette's Bill Would Shield State Pot Laws From Feds

Congresswoman Diana DeGette speaks at a Denver rally beside Senator Michael Bennet.
Congresswoman Diana DeGette speaks at a Denver rally beside Senator Michael Bennet. Kenneth Hamblin III
U.S. Representative Diana DeGette's bill to halt federal marijuana prohibition in states where cannabis is legal was introduced on Monday, April 1, but she insists the issue is no joke.

“Colorado’s marijuana-related business owners are just like any other legitimate business owners in our state, and are currently contributing more than one billion a year to our state’s economy,” DeGette said in anouncing the proposal. “There’s no reason why they should have to go to bed every night worried that the federal government could suddenly take it all away from them and treat them like a criminal.”

DeGette has filed similar versions of the Respect States’ and Citizens’ Rights Act of 2019 during the past four sessions of the House of Representatives. Her latest bill is just two pages long and gets right to the point, instructing Congress to change the Controlled Substance Act by prioritizing state marijuana laws over federal prohibition.

In a release announcing the bill, DeGette's staff mentions the recent appointment of William Barr as the country's attorney general. Barr, who served as AG under President George H.W. Bush from 1991 to 1993, was a key player in the War on Drugs, but during his recent Senate confirmation hearing, he said that he would respect state pot laws. However, Barr also called the states' current approach toward marijuana policy "untenable," and at the same hearing said he opposes ending marijuana prohibition.

"The remarks have raised concerns regarding the administration’s plans to enforce the nation’s marijuana laws going forward. And it’s led DeGette to reintroduce the legislation she originally filed in 2012," the release from her office notes.

The bill doesn't have a good chance of passing, since previous incarnations never had more than twelve co-sponsors or reached a committee vote. But DeGette isn't the only one who's been stymied; most marijuana-related proposals haven't gone far in Congress. Representative Ed Perlmutter's SAFE Banking Act finally bucked that trend, when it was passed by the House Financial Services Committee on March 28. DeGette is a co-sponsor of that bill, which would allow banks and financial institutions to serve state-legal marijuana businesses.

A bipartisan measure for states' rights similar to DeGette's is expected to be introduced by senators Elizabeth Warren and Cory Gardner and representatives David Joyce and Earl Blumenauer in their respective chambers within the next month. That bill could be heard by a House committee within weeks, according to House Rules Committee chairman and Congressman Jim McGovern; the same proposal received support from President Donald Trump in 2018.
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Thomas Mitchell has written about all things cannabis for Westword since 2014, covering sports, real estate and general news along the way for publications such as the Arizona Republic, Inman and Fox Sports. He's currently the cannabis editor for
Contact: Thomas Mitchell