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U.S. Sens. Cory Gardner, Elizabeth Warren aim to shield states with legalized marijuana

June 7, 2018 Updated: June 7, 2018 at 4:57 pm
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Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., speaks with reporters as Democrats criticized the Republican health care plan, at the Capitol in Washington in March. (Photo by J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

U.S. Sens. Cory Gardner and Elizabeth Warren unveiled legislation Thursday that says states that adequately regulate marijuana need not fear federal intervention.

Colorado, Massachusetts and other states that have legalized marijuana have feared interference from the Trump administration, given Attorney General Jeff Sessions' animosity toward pot and the fact that federal law still deems it illegal. The Obama administration provided assurances in the Cole Memo, which the Trump administration rescinded in January.

The new bill is called Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States (STATES) Act.

"Our founders intended the states to be laboratories of democracy," said Gardner, R-Colo., standing alongside Warren, D-Mass., at a Capitol press conference. "And many states right now find themselves deep in the heart of that laboratory, but it's created significant conflict between state law and federal law and how do we move forward."

Gardner said outlawing legalized pot would be akin to "putting the ketchup back in the bottle."

He quoted Trump as saying to him, "We can't go backward. We can only go forward."

Gardner said he opposed legalization of recreational marijuana when voters passed it in 2012. But if the vote were held today, he said, it probably would pass by a bigger majority than the 55 percent it got then.

But the industry's hurdles with banking are "a public hypocrisy," Gardner said, as banks won't serve customers who are outlaws in the eyes of the federal government.

"This city of Denver, the state of Colorado, can collect taxes . they can take it to the bank," he said. "But if you're in the business, if you work for the business, you can't get a bank loan or set up a bank account because of the concern over the conflict between the state and federal law.

"We need to fix this public hypocrisy."

Warren complimented Gardner's leadership "to plow the field here."

"I'm proud to be in this fight, and I'm proud to have a partner like Cory Gardner," she said.

The Massachusetts liberal and the Colorado Eastern Plains conservative are a political odd couple. They announced their partnership on the pot issue in April, trying to hold the president to his word to respect states' rights to manage their own affairs with marijuana.

A fact sheet says the bill would mend the Controlled Substances Act to say it no longer applies to those state, territory or tribal laws "relating to the manufacture, production, possession, distribution, dispensation, administration or delivery of marijuana."

The STATES Act "ensures that each State has the right to determine for itself the best approach to marijuana within its borders," says the outline. "The bill also extends these protections to Washington, D.C, U.S. territories, and federally recognized tribes and contains common-sense guardrails to ensure that states, territories and tribes regulating marijuana do so in a manner that is safe and respectful of the impacts on their neighbors."

The bill also is expected to exclude industrial hemp from the definitions of marijuana and clarify that certain business transactions are not trafficking under federal law.

Warren's office said the bill's goal is to "ensure that each state has the right to determine for itself the best approach to marijuana within its borders."

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