“What do you do?”
When meeting someone for the first time this is a pretty standard ice-breaker. Usually the responses are pretty innocuous: “I’m in sales” or “I’m in IT”. But if you add “…in the cannabis industry” to those answers you’re bound to get a number of follow up questions. When I tell people that I advise businesses, investors, and ancillary service providers in the marijuana industry, without fail the first question that I get is “Aren’t you worried about the federal government?” I then go into discussion on the Rohrabacher-Blumenaur Amendment (formerly the Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment), the history of the Cole Memo (which although rescinded still plays an important role in banking), and the importance of complying with your state’s cannabis regulations. Lastly, I talk about the change in the national discussion and perception of the cannabis industry. Gone are the days of the “lazy stoner” stereotypes (although perhaps not for U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions). Instead we have sophisticated cannabis businesses providing products to a large and diverse section of America – with more and more states looking to legalize either medical or adult-use marijuana activities this year.
For those of us who follow cannabis bills in the U.S. Capitol and in our state legislative houses, it’s clear that there is momentum towards ending America’s shortsighted and draconian war on cannabis (we covered recent developments on the federal level here). While Republicans and Democrats in Congress can’t seem to agree on anything nowadays, support for individual states to regulate cannabis activities as they see fit for their constituents is one of the few areas where bipartisan support exists. Every day, more Republicans in Congress are signing on as sponsors to bills that will support the cannabis and hemp industries (we see you Mitch McConnell!). And now we can add to the list of cannabis supporting Republicans: President Donald Trump?
Just last week, the President, while boarding a helicopter for the G-7 summit in Canada, mentioned his support for what Senator Cory Gardner (R-CO) is doing. What exactly is Senator Gardner doing you ask? He, along with Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Representatives David Joyce (R-OH) and Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), have introduced the Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States (STATES) Act. You’ll recall that Senator Gardner didn’t take too well to A.G. Sessions rescinding the Cole Memo, so he vowed to block all Department of Justice appointments in return. After meeting with the President, Sen. Gardner put an end to his blockade (which we covered, here) when the President assured him that “he will support a federalism-based legislative solution to fix this states’ rights issue once and for all.” At the time of the meeting there was no agreement as to what the “federalism-based legislative solution” would look like. Today there is. Here’s a list of what the STATES Act would and wouldn’t do:
- It would amend the federal Controlled Substances Act (“CSA”) so that the CSA would not apply “to any person acting in compliance with state law relating to the manufacture, production, possession, distribution, dispensation, administration, or delivery of marihuana.”
- It would also amend the CSA so that the same exclusion would apply to persons acting in compliance with the law of a federally recognized Indian tribe within its jurisdiction.
- It would deschedule industrial hemp from the CSA entirely.
- It would make access to banking easier for cannabis businesses as state legal cannabis sales and transactions would no longer be considered trafficking.
- It would not change the law in states that continue to criminalize cannabis activities.
- It would not apply to any of the other substances identified in the CSA.
- It doesn’t guarantee that President Trump will keep his word.
That last point isn’t actually written into the bill, but it’s the 800-pound gorilla in the room that no one can ignore. The President, to be polite, has had a tenuous relationship with the truth and keeping his word, so it’s far from certain that he will throw his support behind the STATES Act. An off-the-cuff remark before meeting with G-7 allies (or are they adversaries now?) does not constitute unwavering support. We’ll have to see more consistent and direct support from the President before we can feel confident that the STATES Act will become law. The President’s support is necessary because he’s still very popular with the Republican base and can therefore give recalcitrant Republicans in Congress cover if they’ve been cannabis opponents previously.
Let’s keep our fingers crossed that the North Korea Summit meeting goes well (who cares about cannabis legalization if nuclear war’s broken out?), that Congress pushes this one through, and that the President carries that high over to the STATES Act.
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Author: Habib Bentaleb