What You Need to Know About The Latest Bipartisan Federal Cannabis Bill, The STATES Act

Written by Ammon J. Ford, Attorney at Gleam Law, PLLC. 

In the wake of U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ anti-marijuana rhetoric, a bipartisan bill has been proposed to protect states’ legal cannabis industries. Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Cory Gardner (R-CO) are introducing new legislation that could be a major milestone in alleviating tensions between states’ rights and federal enforcement when it comes to marijuana. The proposed Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States (STATES) Act is poised to allow each state to determine, for itself, the best approach to cannabis within its borders.

Currently, 46 states permit, or have decriminalized, marijuana or marijuana-based products; Washington D.C., Puerto Rico, Guam, as well as a number of tribes have passed similar laws. Senator Warren herself said, via Twitter, “a majority of Americans support legalizing marijuana,” and the regulations and laws across the nation seem to reflect that sentiment.

As administrations have changed, the guidance from the Justice Department has been withdrawn, leaving states and citizens working in the marijuana industry in a place of legal uncertainty. The STATES Act would help alleviate this federal pressure on states by amending the Controlled Substances Act (21 U.S.C. § 801 et seq.) (CSA).

By following a few basic, state-level guidelines, the provisions of the CSA would no longer apply to persons who act in compliance with State or tribal laws relating to the manufacture, production, possession, distribution, dispensation, administration, or delivery of marijuana. This exception to the CSA would also allow businesses working with marijuana to enjoy the same safe banking practices that the majority of legal businesses enjoy; by explicitly stating that compliant transactions are not trafficking, the bill would help ensure that the profits from marijuana businesses were not considered proceeds of unlawful transactions.

Additionally, the Act would ensure that industrial hemp was exempted from the current definition of “marihuana,” underscoring the intent of the Agricultural Act of 2014, while setting up regulatory safeguards to keep minors from working within the marijuana industry. In a message to his constituency, Senator Gardner underscores that “our bill will ensure the federal government respects the will of the voters and not interfere in Colorado’s legal marijuana industry.”

As states continue to legalize and regulate marijuana through voter referendums, it becomes more apparent that a functional, state-level framework that operates independently of the capricious whims of administrative policy is necessary to move forward.  

While the states stand poised for potential changes at the federal level, it is still important to have experienced, capable legal counsel when working in the cannabis market. Gleam Law, PLLC strives to help entrepreneurs navigate the rapidly changing world of cannabis law and has been engaged in assisting those in need throughout Washington, Oregon, and California’s robust legal, economic, and social growth.