The United States Senate could vote to legalize cannabis at the federal level on Tuesday if Republican Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado can successfully amend a prison reform bill now under consideration. Gardner said in a statement that he planned to attach provisions of the STATES Act to the First Step Act, a prison and sentencing reform bill that advanced with an 81-12 vote from senators on Monday. President Trump indicated he would support Gardner’s legalization bill when it was introduced in the Senate in June.
Senator Invokes Bill of Rights
Gardner said that the legalization of cannabis by states is protected by the Bill of Rights.
“Saturday marked the 227th anniversary of the ratification of the 10th Amendment to the Constitution,” Gardner said on Monday. “It says that ‘[t]he powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.’ I can think of no better way to honor that milestone than to pass the bipartisan STATES Act, and I can think of no better legislation to attach the STATES Act to than the First Step Act.”
Gardner said he believed the legalization of marijuana should be included with the First Step Act to protect people in states like his that have a legal cannabis industry.
“While we are debating criminal justice reform, we need to address the threat of prosecution by the federal government for people in Colorado that are operating legal businesses under state law,” he said.
The senator noted that most of the country has already approved cannabis in some form and that public opinion is firmly behind further legalization.
“This year Oklahoma, Utah, and Missouri changed their laws to join 30 other states that allow medical marijuana,” Gardner said. “Recent polls show around 65% of the country support legalization and 93% support medical marijuana. The people are speaking. The states are leading. It’s time for Congress to act to protect states’ rights.”
Amendment Exempts Pot from CSA
If Gardner’s amendment is approved, the reform bill would exempt cannabis activities compliant with state or tribal law from the Controlled Substances Act. The amendment also clearly states that compliant transactions are not drug trafficking and do not result in proceeds of an unlawful transaction.
The success of Gardner’s amendment to the First Step Act is far from guaranteed. Under Senate procedural rules, opposition from just one Senator would prevent the amendment from coming to a vote, according to David Popp, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).
“It will take unanimous consent — not Leader consent — for a vote to occur on this amendment,” said Popp.
STATES Act Unveiled in June
After the STATES Act was introduced by Gardner and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) in June, President Trump expressed support for the measure in a conversation with reporters outside the White House.
“I probably will end up supporting it,” Trump told reporters, according to The Denver Post.
Since then, however, Congress has shown little interest in the bill.