Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Friday, December 14, 2018

Senator Cory Gardner talking up getting STATES Act attached to federal criminal justice reform bill

This Denver Post article, headlined "Cory Gardner will try to pass marijuana banking, other reforms in the Senate next week," reports on a legislative gambit that the Republican Senator claims to be considering.  Here are the details:

Gardner plans to introduce an amendment Monday that, if passed, would let cannabis businesses open bank accounts in states where they’re legal. It would exempt retailers from federal prosecution while still keeping cannabis a Schedule 1 drug, meaning it would remain illegal in the states that haven’t legalized marijuana for medical or recreational use....

The Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States (STATES) Act is a bill Gardner and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts, introduced together this summer. Its purpose was to have federal laws basically mirror state laws when it comes to cannabis. The bill hasn’t moved much since it was introduced, so Gardner wants to attach it to a criminal justice reform bill working its way through Congress during the lame-duck session.

“This is by far and away the best shot we’ve had so far,” Gardner told the Denver Post on Friday morning. The reason Gardner thinks this might work is because of how the Senate works. When a bill comes up for a vote, it’s a lot easier to attach a germane amendment than one that has nothing to do with the bill. Any one senator can object to an unrelated amendment, but relevant amendments often become pending — meaning they get a vote from the full Senate. “I can’t think of a more appropriate piece of legislation than this bill to try as an amendment to,” Gardner said.

The criminal justice bill is a priority for both President Donald Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky. Gardner said he hadn’t spoken to the president about his plan to attach his measure to the bill, but said “the president supports this legislation, and in its purest form it is sentencing reform.” He’s also confident that he has Senate support to add it as an amendment if he can get a vote.

Given that the leadership of the Senate Judiciary Committee and of the Senate generally has shown, to date, absolutely no interest in holding hearings or moving forward with the STATES Act, I will not dispute Senator Garnder's statement that this is "the best shot [supporters have] had so far." But given that the leadership of the Senate Judiciary Committee and of the Senate generally has shown, to date, absolutely no interest in the STATES Act, I would be shocked if it gets the procedural or substantive support needed to get through the Senate in the coming weeks. And even if it somehow did, there is limited basis to think it would also make it through the House. Ergo, I think this proposed gambit by Senator Gardner has improve the chances of the STATES Act passing in 2018 from 0.1% to maybe 0.5%.

That said, especially with Democrats in control of the House of Representatives come 2019, there is a brighten chance for some meaningful federal marijuana reform in the next Congress. And it is great that Senator Gardner remains highly motivated to try to get his version of reform before his colleague and ultimately into law.

Prior related posts:

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/marijuana_law/2018/12/senator-cory-gardner-talking-up-getting-states-act-attached-to-federal-criminal-justice-reform-bill.html

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