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New Bill in Congress Would Ban Federal Cannabis Enforcement in Legal States

January 12, 2018
Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) introduced the Restraining Excessive Federal Enforcement & Regulations of Cannabis (REFER) Act of 2018 in the US House this week. (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)
US Attorney General Jeff Sessions has had cannabis in his crosshairs since even before he took office, but his first formal shot at legalization—the decision last week to rescind the Cole memo—looks more and more like it could backfire.

On Friday, a California congresswoman introduced a US House bill that would protect state-legal cannabis from “excessive federal enforcement.” Specifically, it would forbid federal agencies from spending money to “detain, prosecute, sentence, or initiate civil proceedings against an individual, business or property, that is involved in the cultivation, distribution, possession, dispensation, or use of cannabis” when those actions comply with state law or local regulations.

Related

A Top Cannabis Lawyer on What Losing the Cole Memo Means

It’s essentially the Rohrabacher–Blumenauer amendment writ large. While Rohrabacher­–Blumenauer (formerly Rohrabacher–Farr) applies only to medical cannabis, bars only Justice Department prosecutions, and needs to be periodically renewed by lawmakers, the new bill is permanent, protects medical and adult-use cannabis, and applies to all federal agencies.

Dubbed the Restraining Excessive Federal Enforcement & Regulations of Cannabis (REFER) Act of 2018, the new legislation was introduced by Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) and reported Friday by Tom Angell of Marijuana Moment, who obtained a full copy of the bill (below) and connected with one of its cosponsors:

“It is time we expand the protections of Rohrabacher-Farr to ensure that no government agency targets marijuana companies and their partners in ancillary businesses,” Congresswoman Dina Titus (D-NV) … told Marijuana Moment via an email. “Taxpayer dollars should not be used to crackdown on law-abiding taxpayers operating legally in states.”

The new bill wouldn’t change the status of cannabis under the federal Controlled Substances Act, which means the bill would have no effect in states that haven’t legalized. But states that adopt their own cannabis laws would no longer face interference—or the threat of it—from federal officials.

Related

Here’s Where US Attorneys Stand on Cannabis Enforcement

Not that Sessions’ recent threat appears to have had much effect, at least of the kind Sessions intended. Rather than slow the spread of legalization, it may have actually hastened it.

Since Sessions undid the Cole memo, state lawmakers have introduced legalization measures in New Jersey and Kentucky. In New Hampshire, members of House gave preliminary approval to another. Perhaps most notably, Vermont’s legislature became the first to pass an adult-use legalization bill—one that Gov. Phil Scott has pledged to sign.

Meanwhile, states that recently passed cannabis laws—including California, Massachusetts, and medical-only North Dakota—appear to be rolling out their programs undaunted. In states that have had legal markets for years, such as Colorado and Washington, state and local officials are lashing out against Sessions, saying his move could do more harm than good.

Related

Politicians Outraged: Sessions Move ‘Trampled the Will of the Voters’

It’s not yet clear whether the REFER Act has any chance of passing. While some members of Congress have been spurred to action since the Sessions announcement—another House bill, the Respect State Marijuana Laws Act, gained 13 sponsors in the wake of the Cole memo’s undoing—other members have yet to sign on to legislation even after issuing strong statements of support.

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Ben Adlin

Ben Adlin is a senior editor at Leafly who specializes in politics and the law. Follow him on Twitter: @badlin

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  • King Ding-A-Ling

    GREAT FOR HER! I hope that she succeeds.

  • CATRYNA49

    So gald to see someone with common sense in contrast to that whore/pimp Sessions. Trump needs to fire this menace to human rights.

    “…..to rescind the Cole memo—looks more and more like it could backfire.” I hope it bites him in the ass.

    Now they just need to make Cannabis, especially Hemp, legal at the Federal level. To have made it illegal, in the first place, was a henous crime against mankind perpetrated by Hearst and Rockefeller.

  • Sonny Cole

    wright your congress person and let them all know

  • Jeff Brown

    Congress needs to get off their ass and move. Congress put cannabis in schedule I with no good reason. They need to take it out of schedule I for good reason. A schedule I substance by definition has no medical use. Cannabis clearly has medical use as the majority of states and people say it does.

  • Batman4prez

    Why not push a bill to make it legal at the federal level. Just be done with it.

    • badlin

      One thing not yet said in replies to this: Because hammering out all the details of federal legalization would take time, and this bill is designed to (quickly!) protect states that have already passed laws and regulations from federal interference.

    • Justin_Khase

      Two words: Big Pharma.

  • whenpigsfly

    Sessions has to go. Not just for reasons stated here but overall he is not fit for the job he’s been handed. IMHO

    • MindFog2287

      Lying to Congress during his confirmation hearing should be enough.

      • whenpigsfly

        Yep. should be, but I guess we live in different times where up is down and wrong is right. At least it sounds that way.

      • james carrington

        Agreed!
        You can bet he is making profit off of his anti-cannabis actions, & that should land him in prison.

    • HappyTruth

      He’s a Russian traitor just like Trump.

  • No President is likely to sign a bill that takes power away from their executive branch of the federal government.

    • jake101goodale

      Trump might simply so he doesn’t have to deal with it. He hasn’t brought those coal jobs back (and he won’t be able to economically), he angered a lot of young conservative voters with his net neutrality debacle, and he will anger a wide cross section of voters if he doesn’t protect state’s rights for cannabis.
      All of that together does not look good for him.

      • whenpigsfly

        Unless he’s looking for a way out….sometimes I wonder?

      • 360dunk

        Jake, you’re right. Unless Trump puts a tight and short leash on Jeff Sessions, he can forget any chance of being re-elected in 2020. He’s starting to piss off fence straddlers and middle-of-the-road type voters.

  • hppyhippi

    First you insult and spread hatred and fear about DJT, demand impeachment, ignore wrong doing by Clintons and the DOJ, and then you ask the majority party to support your cause. Brilliant…NOT !!!

    • jake101goodale

      Well they can always not support legalization and then deal with the significant backlash during 2018 midterms. Between net neutrality and cannabis legalization GOP members are striking out on a lot of very, very popular issues.

      • david slone

        If the only reason they lose is because they don’t agree with dope addicts. Then good help us all. Land of the high . Lmao

        • jake101goodale

          52% of Americans have tried cannabis. 44% of those people still use it today [1]. This is hardly about “agreeing with dope addicts”. It is about recognizing cannabis is less harmful than alcohol and tobacco and as such the government has no business telling adults what they can and can’t do regarding this issue.

          Secondly the criminal argument is that cannabis prohibition has driven up the prison population, which is a significant burden to society, while at the same time providing billions of dollars worth of profit to gangs/cartels through cannabis sales. This funding of the black market leads to significant violence and other crimes, all to prevent adults consuming a substance less harmful than alcohol.

          Finally, cannabis legalization has been shown to reduce opioid overdoses [2]. Given the current opioid situation there is ample incentive to enact polices that reduce overdoses.

          But yah, Im sure this whole issue is about “agreeing with dope addicts”. God needs to help us, but not from cannabis, from people like you who vote, yet only understand issues at the most superficial of levels.

          [1] https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/new-poll-finds-majority-americans-have-smoked-pot-n747476
          [2] https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/new-poll-finds-majority-americans-have-smoked-pot-n747476

        • jake101goodale

          52% of Americans have tried cannabis. 44% of those people still use it today. This is hardly about “agreeing with dope addicts”. It is about recognizing cannabis is less harmful than alcohol and tobacco and as such the government has no business telling adults what they can and can’t do regarding this issue.

          Secondly the criminal argument is that cannabis prohibition has driven up the prison population, which is a significant burden to society, while at the same time providing billions of dollars worth of profit to gangs/cartels through cannabis sales. This funding of the black market leads to significant violence and other crimes, all to prevent adults consuming a substance less harmful than alcohol.

          Finally, cannabis legalization has been shown to reduce opioid overdoses . Given the current opioid situation there is ample incentive to enact polices that reduce overdoses.

          But yah, Im sure this whole issue is about “agreeing with dope addicts”. God needs to help us, but not from cannabis, from people like you who vote, yet only understand issues at the most superficial of levels.

          • david slone

            I really don’t care about your percentage or the reasons. As I said before. The young will soon give this country away. The GREAT USA will be the land OF the Dopers.

          • jake101goodale

            You don’t care about the reasons for being for or against a significant political policy. Hmmm.
            Can you hurry up and die so you stop ruining this country through uninformed voting?

          • 360dunk

            No kidding! These uninformed jerks continue to follow and support the company directive, no matter how senseless it is.

            If Jeff Sessions told David Slone to drink Draino to aid digestion, he would do so.

          • david slone

            You, know I was thing the same about you and your kind. But that’s what you libbies do. Spew hate. But tell you what tell me where your at. And I’ll make sure your not in pain. Lmao

          • jake101goodale

            Not even liberal. But nothing matters to you besides doing what you have always done simply to avoid thinking. Bye.

          • david slone

            Lmao, smoke another bowl. Lol

          • david slone

            Wow and the snowflakes aren’t the haters. Lmao I love it. Bring it on. A whole lot of people are providing my point. Lol

          • 360dunk

            So says the town drunk. Who TF are YOU to tell anyone what to enjoy? Worry about your own sorry self, slone.

          • david slone

            I may say the same to you my friend. Love the passion though. Lmso

          • 360dunk

            You wouldn’t say squat to me, you illiterate buffoon.

          • david slone

            Think I am now. And stop it stop it your hurting my feeling. Lmao is that all you have snowflake. Again put in your big boy pants.

          • Jackson Shredder

            Well you better get out now then David.

  • Classic move: when one branch of government goes one way, the other makes a sharp turn in the opposite direction. Gotta love the USA!

  • Jay

    From a British point of view Trump is the most corrupt and dangerous president the US has ever had…not to mention almost every word that comes out of his mouth is a lie!! Like the fact he made racist comments about the African countries then denied it!!!! the sooner he is out of power the safer the world will be…and the better off you Americans will be..

    • Guitarzan

      I don’t think all Brits see it that way. There are a lot of 3rd world Muslim and non Muslim countries that as Americans we can do without them coming here. They don’t assimilate. They want us to assimilate to their culture… NO Thank You! If your going to have that kind of attitude, turn around and go back to that “country” of yours. Coming here thinking about raping our women? Big mistake! We carry guns and will use them. Maybe President Trump should’ve used better language but many people here agree, we don’t want them and don’t need them here to further burden the tax payer here.

    • lovingc

      He only lied 1950 times in his first year 5.5 times a day. What,me worry?
      Do not despair for America we have a remedy it takes too long but it is going to happen, it is called impeachment. We have had to use it more in the last fifty years than we have had to in the bulk of our history. But it still works. Now under the new laws it will also bring all of the orange ones crimes to light and will hold him accountable. With luck he will lose his fortune and be in jail for the rest of his worthless life, his children as well.

      • MindFog2287

        I don’t know if impeachment is going to happen. I think if the Democrats manage to win both houses of Congress, and therefore can introduce legislation (and control committees), the dotard will resign, while somehow claiming victory. That is if he doesn’t have an aneurysm or something first.

    • MindFog2287

      Pay no attention to Dean below, Jay. Most Americans agree with you actually, and we’ll show in you 2018 and 2020. It just took us a while to wake up and see the danger in our midst.

  • Leroy Mosley

    I love Barbara Lee we need more in the Government like her .

  • Jacek R

    The fact that they are even still talking about the pros and cons of cannabis, while Big Pharma and the FDA’s dangerous corruption gets hit with a few occasional slaps on the wrist, makes this all one ridiculous joke.

  • Michael Foust

    If the Dems were serious about this, it would be sponsored by someone other than Barbara Lee. She is so extreme and crazily vocal (Democratic Donald Trump) so has no credibility outside of her district.

    • lovingc

      Check all of the bills waiting for a vote, it is the republicans stopping any cannabis bills from getting to a vote. Grassly is one of those permanent road blocks ha must go, now.

      • FradyCat5

        So is that Dino that’s always sitting next to him.

    • badlin

      This is not the only bill along these lines. Check the co-sponsors, for example, of the Respect State Marijuana Laws Act: https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/house-bill/975/cosponsors?pageSort=lastToFirst

    • FradyCat5

      Check out HR1227. Sponsor is a Republican. Same result.

  • Jay

    Would a Black Woman President be good for America??

    • FradyCat5

      Not if I can find a photo of the woman with Harvey.

      • 360dunk

        ….or Lauer, or Cosby, or Franken, or Faulk, or Batali, or Rose, or Moore, or, or, or…..

  • jake101goodale

    Personally Im watching my representatives closely. I don’t care what else they do/have done. If they don’t support this bill they permanently lose my vote.

  • Kathleen Chippi

    More BS bureaucracy that perpetuates the longest WAR in the history of the USA, based on lies, rejoice and greed. We need to be supporting and promoting HR-1227 if we really want cannabis removed from the CSA and free from federal interference.

  • 360dunk

    Wake up Jeff Sessions. U.S. law allows each state to determine its position on things like abortion, death penalty, and criminal punishment….with certain guidelines. The Rohrabacher amendment did just that with the cannabis issue, allowing those states with approved dispensaries to follow the will of their voters. America was founded on freedom. If marijuana does not work for you, then don’t use it. But for the 30 million of us who DO use it, move aside…..we’re not going to stop, just because one lone wolf APPOINTEE like Jeff Sessions considers us ‘not good people’. Key word is appointee. America did not choose this anti-freedom clown.

  • Doc

    Sessions is inaccurate about the truth toward Mary Jane. It’s being taxed. The rest is on that mountain. It’s a weed that turns into a flower in the mind.

  • R. Schmidt

    Write your congress person to express your support for this bill. Together we can make a difference.

  • Etidorhpa

    Seattle is a shit hole. This is what democrats do for the public.

  • I agree. Sessions has to go. He is causing public unrest and not acting on the behalf of, what, about 50% of Americans’ polled wishes? Should we act in the same manner about the government’s alcohol lunch breaks, voting after a nip or two of wine or whiskey, having your nighttime nightcap? What about alcohol? Far more dangerous and interactive with medications than cannabis and absolutely no medical value – well, strong alcohol can be an antiseptic and it can thin the blood, but any other advantages? Does Sessions drink alcohol? Is he any better than anyone else to judge the country’s wishes?

  • lovingc

    The H.R.4779 – REFER Act of 2018 would do the job that the temporary bill that has to be reintroduced every year doesn’t It would be a one time bill that protects all states with legal cannabis whether medical or recreational, with out the need to reintroduce it every time there is a new funding bill.
    This is the one to be pushing. It would shut the DOJ down on cannabis enforcement.

  • Robert Gerus

    That should put a dent in Sessions head, I wish somebody would smoke that little prick up.