Marijuana

Why Won't Congress Promise Not to Block Colorado Marijuana Laws?


"Congresswoman Diana DeGette's office announced the introduction of the Respect States' and Citizens' Rights Act, a bill intended to ensure that federal marijuana laws don't exempt the Colorado voter-approved Amendment 64 and a similar measure in Washington state."

This sentence appeared in a November 2012 Westword post — but it could also apply to DeGette's actions this week.

Although the Respect States' and Citizens' Rights Act failed during the 2012-2013 Congressional session, DeGette staged a press conference on Monday to announce that she was trying again with legislation expected to duplicate the previous legislation's efforts.

The new bill isn't online at this writing, so we've included the previous version, which uses legalese (and an antiquated spelling of marijuana) in an effort to prevent the federal government from superseding state cannabis laws. The proposed passage reads:
In the case of any State law that pertains to marihuana, no provision of this title shall be construed as indicating an intent on the part of the Congress to occupy the field in which that provision operates, including criminal penalties, to the exclusion of State law on the same subject matter, nor shall any provision of this title be construed as preempting any such State law.
There's no question that marijuana industry types in Colorado would love for such a bill to pass. Among those appearing alongside DeGette at the press conference was Marijuana Industry Group executive director Mike Elliott, who said, "We continue to bang our head up against the wall of federal law." And indeed, U.S. banking regulations and more continue to bedevil the industry years after such issues were supposed to be addressed.


So why hasn't Congress voted in favor of DeGette's proposal or one like it? Predictably, the explanation involves politics.

Yesterday in this space, we shared the Marijuana Policy Project's grades for presidential hopefuls — and while plenty of candidates running as either Republicans or Democrats support the right of states to make their own marijuana policies, their approaches to the issue differ widely. Some would crack down on states like Colorado, while others lean toward allowing medical marijuana but not the recreational kind, and a few are okay with opening the door to both sorts of sales. But their personal views, like those of President Barack Obama, aren't a substitute for laws on the topic, and any successor with different opinions could change policies on a whim.

At her press conference, DeGette used the 2016 election as a reason why the bill should be passed — but 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.

If we're right, DeGette will likely be introducing the bill again in 2017. Luckily, she knows the drill by now.


Here's a CBS4 report about DeGette's announcement, followed by the 2012 Respect States' and Citizens' Rights Act.

Respect States’ and Citizens’ Rights Act



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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