Before heading on a trip abroad that will take him to the G-7 summit in Canada on Friday, and then to Singapore to meet with Kim Jong-un early next Tuesday, President Trump hinted that he is likely to support a bill introduced Thursday that would protect state marijuana laws from federal interference. “I really do,” Trump said when asked outside the White House on Friday whether supports the bill, which was co-authored by Senator Cory Gardner, a Republican from Colorado. “I support Senator Gardner. I know exactly what he’s doing. We’re looking at it. But I probably will end up supporting it, yes.”
Though over half of all states have passed some form of legislation legalizing marijuana, the drug is still illegal under federal law, which classifies it as a Schedule I narcotic along with heroin, LSD and other drugs the government deem to have “no currently accepted medical use.” Marijuana business is growing rapidly in states where it is legal, but federal restrictions have led to a number of complications. Most banks, for instance, refuse to have relationships with marijuana-related companies, for fear prosecution from federal law enforcement.
“There are federal laws about not being able to put your money into banks if the money comes from illegal activities,” Senator Elizabeth Warren, who co-authored the bill with Gardner, explained Thursday morning on MSNBC. “So long as the sale of marijuana is illegal at the federal level, that means that marijuana stores that are perfectly legal in Colorado or Massachusetts or other states have to do an all-cash business. It’s dangerous and it’s dumb.”
The STATES – or Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States – Act would remove marijuana from the federal schedule of controlled substances in states where it is legal, and allow financial institutions to deal with marijuana businesses as long as those business are legal under state law. The Tenth Amendment reserves that states are in control of all “powers” not outlined in the Constitution. “Our founders intended the states to be laboratories of democracy and many states right now find themselves deep in the heart of that laboratory, but its created significant conflict between state law [and] federal law,” Gardner said alongside Warren as they introduced the bill on Thursday.
Though the bill would largely strip away federal influence from how states are able to enforce their marijuana laws, there are a few caveats. The bill holds that employees of marijuana businesses must be 18 years or older, and that recreational marijuana may only be sold to people 21 and over. It also stipulates that dispensaries may not be set up at rest stops along interstate highways.
Though the president has in the past voiced a desire to leave marijuana legalization up to the states, many have wondered if this latest expression of support may be a result of his intensifying feud with his attorney general, Jeff Sessions, who is a staunch opponent of marijuana legalization and has used his position as the government’s chief legal authority to crack down on convictions related to the drug. In January, Sessions put an end to an Obama administration policy that limited the degree to which federal authorities could enforce marijuana law in states where the drug was legal. Gardner, whose home state of Colorado has legalized recreational use of marijuana, criticized the move immediately.
I am prepared to take all steps necessary, including holding DOJ nominees, until the Attorney General lives up to the commitment he made to me prior to his confirmation.
— Cory Gardner (@SenCoryGardner) January 4, 2018
Gardner isn’t the only lawmaker pushing back against Sessions’s draconian stance on the drug, and those supporting reform have stressed the bipartisan nature of their efforts. In April, Republican Senator Orrin Hatch and California Democrat Kamala Harris wrote a letter to the attorney general asking him to cease blocking research in to marijuana’s medicinal properties. As Gardner and Warren introduced the STATES bill on Friday, Representatives Earl Blumenauer, a Democrat from Oregon, and David Joyce, a Republican from Ohio, introduced a companion bill in the House. At a news conference Thursday, Warren said, “lining them up like Noah’s Ark as they come on two-by-two,” in reference to her and Gardner’s desire to match each of the bill’s co-sponsors with one from the other party.
Despite the attorney general’s vigilant opposition to any form of legalized pot Gardner has said he’s received multiple assurances from President Trump that he would support a bill giving power back to the states, and the president’s comments Friday morning reinforce the belief that he will ultimately endorse the bill. Trump has in recent months made good on several controversial campaign promises, including removing American from the Iran deal and relocating the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. Marijuana reform could soon be added to the list.
“In terms of marijuana and legalization, I think that should be a state issue, state-by-state,” Trump told the Washington Post while campaigning back in 2015. “Marijuana is such a big thing. I think medical should happen – right? Don’t we agree? I think so. And then I really believe we should leave it up to the states.”