Last week, Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner managed to extract a promise from President Trump that the federal government would not interfere with the cannabis industry in his home state. Gardner also said that the president promised to support legislation that explicitly protected states' rights to enact cannabis legalization laws that run contrary to federal prohibition laws.
This week, California Rep. Dana Rohrabacher announced that he will soon propose a new bill to do exactly that. Rohrabacher is well known in the cannabis industry for proposing what is known as the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment, an annual federal budget rider that prevents the Justice Department from spending federal funds on prosecuting state-legal medical cannabis operations. The new Cannabis States' Rights Act would "make the restraint on federal enforcement permanent," a press release from Rohrabacher's office explains.
"I am extremely happy that President Trump has made perfectly clear that he meant his campaign promise to respect state laws with regard to marijuana," Rohrabacher said in the statement. "Now there should be no question in Attorney General [Jeff] Sessions' mind about the president's intention."
Rohrabacher has already proposed a similar bill, the Respect State Marijuana Laws Act, which would make "any person acting in compliance with State laws relating to the production, possession, distribution, dispensation, administration, or delivery of marihuana [sic]" safe from prosecution under the federal Controlled Substances Act.
The Cannabis States' Rights Act expands upon this idea, but also protects Native Americans complying under tribal laws from federal intervention. Neither bill would federally legalize cannabis, but would instead simply protect canna-legal states and the businesses that operate within them from federal interference.
"This is a fundamental issue of federalism and freedom, as state after state moves to take marijuana out of the hands of the cartels and place it in a competitive market where consumers can be assured of product safety," Rohrabacher said in his statement. "It also encourages more exploration of medical uses for cannabis, which has shown unquestionable promise in the treatment of multiple ailments and disorders."
Traditionally, cannabis reform has been a partisan issue, with Democrats supporting legalization or decriminalization and Republicans opposing. But the past decade has seen increasing support for cannabis reform from Republicans like Rohrabacher. As the debate over cannabis becomes increasingly focused on federalism, rather than the potential benefits or risks of legalization, more and more Republicans are getting on board.
"Siding with state governments over federal regulation is an important principle of federalism and consistent with conservative values," Neal Levine, chairman of the New Federalism Fund, said to the LA Times. "The president himself has been a consistent proponent of states' rights and letting the federal government get out of the states' way on this issue. We expect our Republican champions on Capitol Hill will continue to lead on this issue and for those numbers to grow."
Also, as an increasing majority of voters are in favor of cannabis legalization, Republican politicians are realizing that they need to shift with the times in order to win votes. Mason Tvert, vice president of communications for cannabis policy firm VS Strategies, said that the recent upsurge in support for cannabis is "going to force politicians — especially Republicans who have been somewhat reluctant — to continue to support the end of marijuana prohibition."