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More and more elected officials in the U.S. are coming out of the cannabis closet and supporting states’ rights to legalize pot. But even with bills to end federal prosecution for state-sanctioned marijuana waiting in both the Senate and House, and a promise from President Trump to support such an initiative, those proposals have yet to transform into federal law.
In an effort to pressure federal legislators to adopt such protections, a number of state and local governmental associations have made their support for legal cannabis reform a part of their official agendas. In a new platform announced on Monday, the National Association of Counties (NACo) joined those ranks, calling on Congress to embrace safeguards for state-legal weed industries. Representing 3,069 counties in states both with and without legal cannabis, NACo officials were serious in their requests.
“NACo urges Congress to enact legislation that promotes the principles of federalism and local control of cannabis businesses with regard to medical and adult-use of cannabis under state law,” the nationwide association detailed, according to Marijuana Moment. “Congress should allow and encourage state and local governments to enact and implement cannabis laws, regulations, and policies that appropriately control production, processing, sales, distribution and use, as well as promote public and consumer safety, should they choose to decriminalize and regulate cannabis under state law.”
For most of the past year, the Trump administration (and particularly Attorney General Jeff Sessions) has pushed a narrative seeking to destabilize the nation’s growing legal cannabis industry. Stopping short of DEA raids, Sessions revoked the Obama-era protections of the Cole memo, while repeatedly making erroneous statements about the effects of marijuana.
In response, high-profile federal legislators including Sens. Cory Gardner, Elizabeth Warren, and Rep. Dana Rohrabacher have introduced bills in both chambers of Congress looking to secure states’ rights to legal cannabis indefinitely. In April, Sen. Gardner announced that President Trump had guaranteed his support on such a bill.
Since then, Gardner and Warren’s Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States (STATES) Act has found eight Senate cosponsors, but has not been moved to a vote.
Last month, governors from twelve states delivered a letter to Congress in support of the STATES Act, followed just days later by a similar request from the U.S. Conference of Mayors. Moving a step beyond legal weed protections, the mayoral conclave called on federal lawmakers to deschedule cannabis entirely.
“Cannabis prohibition has failed,” Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler told the Associated Press in June. “It has failed to keep our children safe, it has failed law enforcement, and it has especially failed communities of color disproportionately targeted and prosecuted for low-level drug offenses. Eventually, legalization will come to every state — and we want to make sure it’s done so safely and effectively.”
In its own letter, NACo stopped short of demanding total federal legalization, but stood firm on the need for institutional protections against Department of Justice interference in locally-approved pot businesses.
“The federal government should largely be responsible for regulating and enforcing against illegal drug trafficking, while respecting states’ right to decriminalize cannabis under state law,” NACo officials wrote.
Currently, the STATES Act has been referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee for debate, with no schedule set for further action.