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Federal bills from Colorado legislators seek to shield state marijuana laws, open banking
Colorado federal lawmakers this week amplified efforts to protect state-enacted marijuana laws and cannabis businesses.
Reps. Diana DeGette and Mike Coffman on Thursday introduced the Respect States’ and Citizens’ Rights Act of 2017, which would add a provision to the Controlled Substances Act that would prevent federal preemption of state law. A day earlier, Colorado’s two senators threw their support behind banking legislation for the marijuana industry.
DeGette, a Democrat, and Coffman, a Republican, said in interviews Thursday that they resurrected their legislation — it previously was introduced in 2012, 2013 and 2015 — because of the saber-rattling that’s coming from the new administration around drugs, crime and marijuana enforcement.
“It’s really important right now, obviously, because it would clarify what the federal law is,” DeGette said. “What would flow from that, I think, would be letting people have their bank accounts and ensuring (Attorney General) Jeff Sessions and the Department of Justice aren’t going to come down and enforce the federal laws on states that have exercised their right.”
Under the Controlled Substances Act, marijuana is listed as a Schedule I substance — the strictest of classifications, defined as having a high potential for abuse and no currently accepted medical use.
DeGette and Coffman’s bill aims to clarify congressional intent within the CSA by inserting a provision about federal preemption:
That list of states has increased significantly since DeGette and Coffman first broached this issue in 2012, when Colorado voters decided to legalize adult-use marijuana. Currently, 29 states, a number of U.S. territories and Washington, D.C., have medical marijuana laws; eight states have recreational marijuana laws; and several others allow the limited use of non-psychoactive cannabidiol (CBD).
The support in Congress has grown as well, DeGette said.
“More states are legalizing either recreational or medicinal marijuana and their representatives are recognizing that this is creating some unique challenges that need to be addressed,” she said.
However, the federal marijuana bills may never see the light of day because of staunch opposition from committee chairs, Coffman said.
“I worry that we’re not where we need to be,” he said.
But Coffman, who opposed Colorado’s legalization of recreational marijuana, said it’s a matter of states’ rights and a matter of fighting for his constituents.
“I think in terms of getting the administration to back off, this is really important,” he said. “Even if this legislation doesn’t pass, it sends a signal to the administration to watch it when it comes to coming down on states that have made the decision for medical and/or recreational marijuana.”
The resurrection of the Respect States’ and Citizens’ Rights Act of 2017 came a day after Colorado’s senators, Democrat Michael Bennet and Republican Cory Gardner, announced their sponsorship of the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act of 2017, the Senate companion bill to legislation introduced a few weeks back by Rep. Ed Perlmutter, D-Colorado.
The initial sponsors of the Senate version of the SAFE Banking Act include Jeff Merkley, D-Oregon; Ron Wyden, D-Oregon; Rand Paul, R-Kentucky; Patty Murray, D-Washington; Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts, Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nevada; and Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii.
“Conflicting federal and state marijuana laws make it difficult for legitimate businesses to use the basic financial services they need access to and this bipartisan legislation gives them that access they need,” Gardner said in a statement. “We must also take into account the risk to public safety as these businesses are being forced to carry around bags of money to pay for their employees and rent. Legal businesses should not be treated like this, and I’m glad that Republicans and Democrats are working together to address this issue.”
The bill’s primary aims are as follows, according to Gardner’s office. The legislation would prevent federal banking regulators from:
Other provisions include: