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States’ Rights Bill Could End Prohibition Without Congressional Repeal Process

While some of the nation’s more limp-wristed legislators are working to attach hollow riders to the next federal spending bill in hopes of providing some illusory protection for legal marijuana states, one lawmaker is pushing for a more finite plan to disarm nationwide marijuana enforcement in states that have and will legalize the leaf for either medical or recreational purposes.

Earlier this month, Congresswoman Suzan DelBene of Washington submitted a piece of legislation to the U.S. House of Representatives that would prevent the United States government from sending in the gladiators of the drug war to interfere with businesses and people acting in compliance with their respective state’s marijuana laws.

It is called the “State Marihuana and Regulatory Tolerance Enforcement Act,” a measure designed to effectively amend a portion of the Controlled Substances Act to provide immunity from federal prosecution for all marijuana users and its marketplace as long as they are in accordance with state law.

The bill would allow states to seek out permission from the U.S. Attorney General for a “waiver” which would certify that the state has established a law “that is sufficient to protect Federal interests.” The details of those “Federal interests” are outlined with nine key points, from preventing minor consumption to enforcing laws against pot possession on federal land.

In exchange for the waiver, states would be held responsible for issuing annual reports to the U.S. Attorney General’s office that detail youth consumption rates, stoned driving, diversion into prohibition states and the overall impact legalization has had on the black market. These states, in turn, would be allowed to operate a cannabis industry—including access to banking services—without any potential for legal repercussion at the hand of federal enforcers.

“These waivers will ensure people in states that have different laws than the federal government on marijuana are protected from prosecution, provided they meet certain requirements, as more and more states work to regulate marijuana in their own borders,” DelBene said in a statement.

The latest bill aimed at providing legal marijuana states with real protection is similar to a measure introduced in April by Representative Dana Rohrabacher of California entitled the “Respect State Marijuana Laws Act of 2015.” In a fashion similar to DelBene’s proposal, this simple legislation would provide legal states with a protective shield against the feds by amending the Controlled Substances Act.

Although DelBene’s bill presents a few more complications than Rohrabacher’s, both would essentially eliminate prohibition nationwide without forcing Congress to initiate the repeal process.

But with over 20 marijuana-related bills, including the highly publicized CARERS Act, currently lingering in political purgatory on Capitol Hill, it is difficult to predict the chances of either of these proposals getting a hearing within the next year. There just isn’t enough Republican support to get anything marijuana–related pushed through.

Yet, states’ rights is a hot issue, with most of the presidential candidates from both parties making comments in recent months about how the federal government should stay out of the way of those states that have legalized marijuana.

In fact, a recent poll suggests that the majority of Republican voters in the early primary states of Iowa and New Hampshire believe there should be no federal interference in state pot laws. If this sentiment somehow manages to trickle into the halls of Congress in the coming months, we could see either DelBene’s or Rohrabacher’s bill gain enough bipartisan support to build some momentum in 2016. Yet, don’t hold your breath.

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