Senator Cory Gardner (R-Colorado) wants to protect his state’s booming cannabis industry. He’s come up with a few strategies. But Gardner’s plans — including the one he championed — keep failing.
In June, he co-sponsored legislation with Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts). The bipartisan STATES Act would’ve directed federal agencies to leave marijuana laws up to the states. It would amend the Controlled Substances Act, to make state and tribal laws override federal laws, when it came to cannabis. It would ease federal restrictions on banks and financial institutions, allowing them to work with cannabis businesses. (In states like Colorado, marijuana businesses still deal mostly with cash, due to federal banking restrictions.) The bill was well received. Even President Trump indicated he would sign it — if it ever made it to his desk.
Despite bipartisan support and lots of press, the STATES Act picked up few co-sponsors in Congress.
So Cory Gardner came up with a new plan.
He then added similar language as an amendment to the First Step Act. The First Step Act is the criminal reform bill Congress passed. It addressed some of the most inhumane aspects of mass incarceration in America today. As it gained steam in the Senate, Gardner hoped to tack his marijuana language onto the bill.
Because how could you talk about the errors of the criminal justice system, Gardner asked, without talking about marijuana?
“Being from Colorado, it is hard to think about federal criminal justice reform without thinking about the biggest problem the federal criminal law creates for Colorado: the refusal to respect the will of Coloradans when it comes to marijuana,” Gardner said in a Senate floor speech, before the amendment was rejected. “Every day, Coloradans of good faith follow Colorado law to a T, yet they are still criminals in the eyes of the federal government. Cancer patients using medical marijuana to control their pain and veterans who are using marijuana to alleviate the PTSD they suffer because they served their country – federal law says they are criminals. The People do not think that. So the federal law should change.”
But Senator Mitch McConnell used a procedural maneuver to block Gardner’s amendment.
Still, Gardner had an ace up his sleeve. He called for “unanimous consent,” to get his amendment included in the bill. That didn’t work, either. He was blocked by Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa). Grassley objected to the amendment, calling it a “back door to legalization.”
Afterwards, Gardner vowed to keep fighting for states’ rights to make their own marijuana laws, without fearing federal interference. He plans to reintroduce the STATES Act, when Congressional committees are no longer chaired by such obstinate anti-pot Republicans. If the STATES Act could just get a vote, supporters believe, it could stand a chance.