A Republican Senator's Clever Ploy to Get the Feds to Leave Colorado Pot Alone

Last month, we noted that Representative Diana DeGette had reintroduced he Respect States' and Citizens' Rights Act, a bill intended to ensure that federal marijuana statutes don't supersede cannabis laws enacted in Colorado and numerous other states.

In our coverage, we noted that the legislation faces an uphill battle. We wrote: "The uncertainty about who will be occupying the White House after the vote will likely doom its chances. We suspect that a majority of legislators won't be willing to tie the hands of the next President when it comes to the subject. Besides, inaction is both easier and safer from a political standpoint."

Now, however, an unlikely figure — Thad Cochran, a Republican Senator from the very red state of Mississippi — has come up with an approach that may accomplish DeGette's purposes in a stealthier fashion.

How? By adding marijuana-related language to a larger appropriations bill rather than drawing extra attention to it in a separate proposal such as Degette's. And given that Cochran is the chairman of the Senate's appropriations committee, he's got a better-than-average chance of making his suggestions stick.

The news was reported by the Marijuana Majority's Tom Angell, an advocate for cannabis-policy reform who keeps a close eye on legislation that could make an impact here and beyond.

The legislation has the not-so-catchy title "S.2131 — An Act Making Appropriations for Law Enforcement and for Other Purposes, 2016," and it's massive. The upload on the site is spread over multiple addresses.

Here's an excerpt from the first. It specifically prohibits the use of funds by the Department of Justice to prevent Colorado and other named states from implementing their medical marijuana laws:

This same document also prevents the use of DOJ or Drug Enforcement Administration funds to undermine research into hemp, another budding Colorado industry, as witnessed by our September tour of the country's largest hemp farm, located near Eaton.

A second document protects the rights of veterans to participate in medical marijuana programs. In July, the Colorado Department of Health once again rejected adding PTSD to conditions treatable by medical marijuana — a controversial decision that led some critics to blame this development on the influence of Big Pharma. But states such as New Mexico recognize medical marijuana as a treatment for PTSD.

Finally, doc number three addresses the struggles recreational and medical marijuana businesses have had securing banking services.

Of course, these sections could be stripped out of the appropriation bill as it goes through the meat-grinder process of becoming a law. But corresponding with Westword via e-mail, Angell sees reason for optimism.

“We won bipartisan votes on all of these issues this year on either the House floor, in the Senate Appropriations Committee or both, so this is a rare case of Congressional leadership actually listening to their members — and to the American people," he writes.

"Just a few short years ago, politicians used to jump all over each other to be seen as the ‘toughest’ on drugs. But now that polls consistently show that a growing majority of Americans support legalization, more elected officials are beginning to realize that scaling back failed prohibition policies is not only the right thing to do, but that it’s politically smart."

DeGette, a proud progressive, is an example of this theory — and so, it seems, is a certain conservative senator from Mississippi.

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts