by Carey Wedler
A day before notorious drug warrior Senator Jeff Sessions assumed the role of Attorney General in President Trump’s administration this week, another lawmaker introduced legislation to protect states’ rights on cannabis.
Republican Representative Dana Rohrabacher of Orange County, California, submitted a bill on Tuesday with the express purpose of amending the Controlled Substance Act to remove legal punishments for the production, distribution, and use of cannabis when individuals are acting within the laws of their own states.
This is the third time Rohrabacher has introduced the legislation. According to Jeff Vanderslice, Legislative Director for the congressman’s office, the bill the lawmaker introduced this week is identical to the ones he introduced in 2013 and 2015. As such, H.R. 975 consists of only one sentence:
“Notwithstanding any other provision of law, the provisions of this subchapter related to marihuana shall not apply to any person acting in compliance with State laws relating to the production, possession, distribution, dispensation, administration, or delivery of marihuana.”
The bill had 20 co-sponsors in 2015, including both Democrats and Republicans.
Though the proposed amendments to the Controlled Substance Act were previously referred to subcommittees and left to die, circumstances have changed since the last time Rohrabacher submitted the bill in April 2015.
In the 2016 election, alone, eight states legalized recreational or medical marijuana, bringing the total number of states with some sort of policy allowing for the plant to 33. Public opinion, too, increasingly favors legalization. Even a growing number of police officers advocate legalizing cannabis in some form, and law enforcement surveys have indicated police view the plant as one of the least serious drug threats on the streets.
According to Robert Cappechi, director of federal policies for the Marijuana Policy Project, “Nine out of 10 Americans now live in states that have rejected federal marijuana prohibition by adopting some sort of marijuana policy reform.”
“This legislation would ease the tension between state and federal laws to ensure these state-level reforms are successful. It would also help states address the public health and safety priorities shared by state and federal authorities.”
Though Attorney General Sessions admitted during his confirmation hearings that policing states that already allow for legal cannabis use could cause a strain on federal resources, he also said he “won’t commit to never enforcing federal law.” His past and current sentiments regarding marijuana have led some legalization advocates to express concern about future federal policy.
Because of this uncertainty, Rohrabacher’s latest incarnation of the proposed amendment is all the more relevant. Don Murphy, MPP’s director of conservative outreach, summed up the necessity of the legislation:
“Congress needs to listen to their constituents and to state lawmakers, most of whom agree marijuana policy is an issue best left to the states. This is a bipartisan solution that ought to find support on both sides of the aisle.”
Though it’s possible the bill will languish in subcommittees, Rohrabacher’s tenacity parallels the United States’ increasing need for serious reforms on decades-old prohibition.
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