On Thursday (Jan 11), members of Congress came to the rescue of recreational marijuana states by introducing a bill to protect them from federal prosecution and allow each state to decide whether they would like to have legal marijuana.
Democrat Representative Barbara Lee of California is the main sponsor of the bill known as resolution HR 4779.
“The federal government should respect the will of the voters in states that have voted to decriminalize cannabis,” The congresswoman said, “It’s time to stop wasting taxpayer money on the failed War on Drugs.”
Under the Controlled Substances Act of 1971, cannabis is still considered illegal nationwide contradicting the laws passed in states that have legalized.
The legislation was introduced by Lee as the REFER Act, and according to the congresswoman, would “prevent the Attorney General and others in the Trump Administration from stifling the budding cannabis industry,” Lee said adding that, “If the federal government chooses to interfere in these state matters, it’s up to Congress to prevent this harmful overreach.”
The bill proposes the same type of restrictions on federal law enforcement which are currently given to medical marijuana states through the Rohrabacher–Blumenauer amendment which blocks the Department of Justice from spending any money on enforcing the federal law in medical marijuana states.
If passed, the REFER Act would prevent the DOJ from spending any 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 the use of cannabis in accordance with the law or regulation of the state or unit of local government in which the individual is located.”
Where this new bill goes even further than previous legislation is in its protection of banks which have been reluctant to do business with the cannabis industry but have recently begun to open their door to these businesses. The law would prevent the DOJ from going after these banks, “solely because the institution provides financial services,” to cannabis businesses.
Eight states and the District of Columbia have legalized the recreational use of marijuana by a popular vote. Additionally, Vermont and New Hampshire both have legalization on that table and are expected to legalize recreational use early in 2018. Joining them in the fight for legalization, newly elected governor of New Jersey, Phil Murphy, pledged to sign a legalization bill.
On January 4th, just days after California officially legalized and became the world’s largest cannabis market, Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded the previous administration’s protections for legal states known as the Cole Memo.
The bill is sponsored by four other members of the House including, Don Young a Republican from Alaska where recreational cannabis is legal. The list of sponsors also includes Rep. Earl Blumenauer, one half of the bipartisan team that put together the most recent version of the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment which has protected medical marijuana states since 2014.