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FAQ: What the STATES Act Would Do, and Why It’s a Game-Changer

June 7, 2018
Federal cannabis legalization STATES Act sponsors Gardner and WarrenYou might be witnessing cannabis prohibition's end. (Carolyn Kaster, Alex Brandon/AP)
Roughly 75% of Americans support allowing states to set their own cannabis policy, and soon maybe Congress will too.

Americans who live in states with legal cannabis could see an end to the generations-old federal war on marijuana, thanks to today’s introduction of the Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States (STATES) Act. Introduced in Washington, DC, today, the bill would exempt legal-cannabis states like California from federal pot law enforcement, further winding down the country’s weed wars. It means federal agents couldn’t arrest you for a baggie of weed, and your dispensary couldn’t get raided and seized for breaking federal drug laws.

Why Is This Needed?

Around 600,000 Americans are arrested each year on marijuana charges. Suspected drug crimes are the number one reason why police make arrests, and marijuana is the number one drug crime for which police make arrests. But about 61 percent of Americans support ending cannabis prohibition. Nine states and Washington, DC, have legalized cannabis for adults 21 and older, but federal pot prohibition remains in effect. Federal agents could arrest individuals for breaking federal pot law, though groups like the Drug Enforcement Administration concentrate on so-called ‘big fish’—interstate drug traffickers.

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Forty-six states currently have laws permitting or decriminalizing recreational or medical marijuana or marijuana-based products. This has set up a conflict with the federal government that the STATES Act could help resolve.

What Does the STATES Act Do?

The STATES Act exempts state-legal marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act, allowing every state to legalize and regulate cannabis (or keep it illegal) as they see fit. That means federal agents could not raid lawful, state-licensed businesses or seize their stuff.

The STATES Act also makes cannabis banking easier by clearly stating that compliant banking transactions “are not trafficking.”

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The STATES Act also legalizes industrial hemp, which has been federally banned for decades. Legal hemp for food, fuel, fiber, and medicine is a potential boon to red-state economies like Kentucky.

The bill would be for adults 21 and over.

The STATES Act would also likely accelerate reforms in cannabis battleground states by eliminating opponents’ talking points about conflicting federal law. Michigan, Utah, Missouri and Oklahoma could hold statewide referendums on recreational or medical cannabis use.

What Are the Bill’s Limitations?

The US marijuana war is multi-layered, and the Controlled Substances Act is but one thick layer.

Cannabis users will still face employment and medical discrimination when applying for jobs or organ transplants.

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Banking hurdles will remain and operators could still have their accounts rejected, closed, or face higher fees. And major tax hurdles to operating a cannabis business will remain, including disallowance of normal business deductions.

Marijuana arrests would continue at the local level in non-legalization states like New York, Florida, Illinois, and beyond.

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Read Sen Elizabeth Warren’s office Fact Sheet on the STATES Act. Here is a full copy of the STATES Act bill.

What Other Bills Are Pending?

Congress is crackling with cannabis law reform bills, in part spearheaded by a growing Congressional Cannabis Caucus.

Congress’ longtime shield over medical marijuana patients—what was called the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment—has gained more support this year. Once inserted as a floor rider it’s becoming a more formal part of the committee-level budgeting process.

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Will the STATES Act Pass?

Republicans control of all three branches of government. But they aren’t a voting bloc. Hyper-conservative wings could prevent Sen. Gardner’s bill from coming up for key committee or floor votes. That happened to a cannabis bill for veterans just this week.

The STATES Act also sails into the murky waters of an election year, with Republicans fighting to retain control of the House and potentially avoid impeachment hearings for the President. That will make politicians cautious about the votes they take, and the STATES Act could die as a bargaining chip on bigger issues this year.

“It’s not so much Trump, it’s a lot of the other GOP,” said Lindsay Robinson, executive director of the California Cannabis Industry Association, earlier this week. “He might have a more progressive attitude than some of his other counterparts.”

Still, it’s a bill that some political observers inside and outside the DC Beltway believe has a real chance of gaining some traction on Capitol Hill, and perhaps even becoming law.

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Who’s Opposing It?

The US’s powerful security-industrial complex—including the Departments of Justice and Treasury, the DEA, the police chiefs’ and sheriffs’ associations and police unions—will have strong opinions. When past efforts like this have come up, they have voiced concerns about hamstringing federal efforts to root out cartel activity in legal states.

The Department of Treasury was also the first into the marijuana war in 1937 with the Marijuana Tax Act and is likely to be the last out.

There’s also the religious right, as well as nanny state Democrats, plus progressives who do not want to see “states’ rights” efforts gain a bigger following.

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Who’s Pushing for Passage?

The STATES Act initial list of co-sponsors is bi-partisan, bi-cameral and national. In the Senate it’s: Senators Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV.), Rand Paul (R-KY), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), and Cory Booker (D-NJ). The House by Representatives’ co-sponsors are: Carlos Curbelo (R-FL.), Jared Polis (D-CO), Ken Buck (R-CO), Walter Jones (R-NC), Diana DeGette (D-CO), Rob Blum (R-IA), Steve Cohen (D-TN), Matt Geatz (R-FL), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), Tom McClintock (R-CA), Luis Correa (D-CA), Jason Lewis (R-MN), and Ro Khanna (D-CA).

Many more members like Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) have taken positions favorable to co-sponsoring.

Longtime cannabis prohibitionist Sen. Diane Feinstein evolved on this issue this spring, saying she now favors a states-rights approach to cannabis regulation. Her evolution came during a tough primary in which Feinstein failed to secure the endorsement of her state Democratic Party, and several challenges ran to the left of her. Sen. Feinstein sits with Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) on the powerful Senate Judiciary Committee, where many bills live or die.

The legislation has been endorsed by organizations including:

  • the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)
  • Americans for Tax Reform
  • the Brennan Center for Justice
  • the Cooperative Credit Union Association
  • the Drug Policy Alliance, the Institute for Liberty
  • LatinoJustice PRLDEF, the Law Enforcement Action Partnership
  • the Marijuana Policy Project
  • the Massachusetts Bankers Association
  • the Maine Credit Union League
  • the Mountain West Credit Union Association
  • the National Cannabis Bar Association
  • the National Cannabis Industry Association
  • the National Conference of State Legislatures
  • the New Federalism Fund
  • NORML
  • the Northwest Credit Union Association
  • R Street
  • and the Taxpayers Protection Alliance

You can add your support by contacting the offices of sponsors Sen. Warren and Sen. Gardner, as well as voicing your support to your elected representatives.

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Leafly Staff

Leafly is the world’s largest cannabis information resource, empowering people in legal cannabis markets to learn about the right products for their lifestyle and wellness needs. Our team of cannabis professionals collectively share years of experience in all corners of the market, from growing and retail, to science and medicine, to data and technology.

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  • 24 Hour Man

    Nice job Sen Warren we need pols who follow the WILL of the voters!

  • Jake Cavinder

    Will this also allow medical patients to own guns?

  • Highway 69

    Tom McClintock (R-CA), is for this?! What a shock!

  • 360dunk

    Common sense prevails these days as even Republicans are climbing aboard. I’m more proud of the United States now than ever before!

  • BenSamizdat

    Amendment X reads: “The 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.” What this means is that whatever rights and powers the Constitution does not EXPLICITELY give to the Federal government shall always remain with the States. In other words THE STATES DON’T NEED ANY SPECIAL BILLS TO TAKE BACK WHAT IS THEIRS. We don’t need Trump, Sessions or Warren to allow us to regulate drugs. They don’t even have the authority whatsoever to allow or disallow it. We just need them to recognize how the Constitution works and get out of the way.

  • Rob Woodside

    Thanks for an excellent article. I now have some idea of what is going on.

    Legalization of cannabis got Justin Trudeau elected in Canada. Just like his Dad, who legalized divorce, Justin has made very heavy weather of it and has still not got it done after 3 years. It is a maddeningly restricting and punitive legalization, just like his Dad’s divorce law, and will need further changes. People here say, “You should be happy with baby steps.”

    The media has touted Gardner’s bill as a “Legalization”. As the article clearly explains it is not, not even a baby step!!!

    I do admit that if Trudeau’s and Gardner’s legislation is enacted, it will help. There is still so much more to do!!!

  • The D.O.G. Disabled Organic Ga

    This is all well and good for states that have legal cannabis laws but it does nothing for the states where it’s still illegal? I know personally that my states government doesn’t support legal cannabis unless it’s legal under federal law. So we’re just suppose to sit back and be “ok” with this bill that lets others have the right to consume cannabis while we suffer with the drug war? I mean I support the bill but what does it do for the rest of us?

    • David Gordon

      Yo, you got to get your ass off the couch and fight for it. Hippies, peacemakers, and potheads in California have fought for legalization of marijuana since the 60’s. That’s a lot of petitions, rallys, and fights for them over the years. We never threw the towel in. Stop whining or bitching and fight the good fight. Never give up , Never surrender. Legalization for your state is your fight, no one, but you and your fellow locals only. We can give you support, that’s all. It’s your state. Rally your people’s and own it. Legalize your state, we know you can do it.

  • Big Pharma and Evil Nazi Terrorists oppose legalization of marijuana at the federal level more than anyone or anything else. They were making too much $$$ off of Oxy and cocaine is the only reason.

  • Hello People

    this bill is awful, all this time and this is what they come up with? keep it exactly the same except with expanded selective enforcement?

    Warren should be ashamed, anybody who signed on to this bill should be, it gives the feds too much power, you feel like getting in a fight with those guys?