WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner reintroduced a bill in Congress Thursday to ensure states can determine marijuana legalization issues for themselves, regardless of whether federal policy differs.
Both Gardner and his bill drew immediate criticism from opponents of marijuana legalization.
While opponents called the proposed legislation irresponsible and dangerous, Gardner said it was a matter of Tenth Amendment states’ rights.
The 10th Amendment says that powers not delegated to the national government by the Constitution "are reserved to the states."
Gardner referred to the 2012 state ballot measure in Colorado that legalized recreational marijuana sales and use, criticizing federal laws that continue to classify marijuana as an illegal drug that could lead to felony convictions even when state law allows it.
“Because of the one-size-fits-all federal prohibition, state decisions like this put Colorado and other states at odds with the federal government,” Gardner said.
In the past year, Michigan, Missouri, Oklahoma, Utah and Vermont increased the number of states to 47 that have legalized at least some uses of marijuana.
Gardner reintroduced the bill on the same day the New Hampshire House of Representatives passed a bill by a 200-to-163 vote that would commercialize the sale of recreational marijuana.
The Justice Department initially tolerated states’ efforts to legalize marijuana. But last year it withdrew the support amid outcries from opponents about health and safety concerns.
The outcries continued Thursday from the public policy group Smart Approaches to Marijuana.
"Make no mistake, this bill formally legalizes marijuana at the federal level,” said Kevin Sabet, president of the Alexandria, Virginia-based Smart Approaches to Marijuana Action.
“It allows for the advertising and sale of 99 percent potency concentrates and kid-friendly pot gummies, candies, ice creams and sodas that have recently come under scrutiny for causing massive increases in emergency room visits in legalized states and have been shown to increase the risk of psychosis.”
Other dangers come from corporations that could advertise marijuana sales, sometimes making it more available to vulnerable children, Sabet said.
He added that proposals like Gardner’s would encourage organized crime to enter the industry, such as through illegal imports of marijuana into U.S. mainstream markets.
“Many Coloradans are deeply embarrassed that Senator Gardner has become a champion of the increased cartel and black-market activity that is harming other states,” Sabet said.
Gardner did not directly address his critics but instead focused on the rights of state residents to make their own decisions.
“The bipartisan, common-sense bill ensures the federal government will respect the will of the voters — whether that is legalization or prohibition — and not interfere in any state’s legal marijuana industry,” Gardner said in a statement.
The bill is called the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States Act (STATES Act). Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., joined Gardner in introducing it in the Senate. Colorado Democratic U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet is a co-sponsor.
Key provisions of the bill would amend the federal Controlled Substances Act to protect persons from criminal liability if they comply with state or tribal laws on manufacturing, production, possession, distribution and delivery of marijuana. They would not be protected from federal prosecution if they employ minors in marijuana operations or endanger human life while manufacturing it.
Other provisions ban sales to anyone less than 21 years old except for those with medical conditions. Distribution of marijuana would be prohibited at transportation safety facilities such as truck stops.
The STATES Act would instruct the Government Accountability Office to study how marijuana legalization affects traffic safety. The study would consider the rates of impaired drivers, the drug’s role in traffic accidents and whether states can accurately test drivers for marijuana use.
Gardner and Warren tried to add the STATES Act to the Senate’s criminal justice reform bill last year, but their proposal was blocked by a procedural maneuver from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
After it was reintroduced this week, Warren said, “Our federal marijuana laws are outdated and pose a threat to our public health and safety. Marijuana should be legalized, and we must reverse the harm of these failed policies by wiping clean the records of those unjustly jailed for minor marijuana crimes.”
The American Bankers Association (ABA) declined to directly support marijuana legalization but did say in a statement that allowing the cannabis industry to operate legitimately “would allow banks to accept deposits and provide basic financial services to state licensed cannabis businesses and their service providers.
"That, in turn, would help those communities reduce cash-motivated crimes, increase the efficiency of tax collections and improve the financial transparency of the cannabis industry.”
Jerrod Dobkin, Gardner’s spokesman, said the ABA did not directly support marijuana legalization “but did endorse the STATES Act.”
The U.S. Justice Department declined to comment when asked by Colorado Politics.