Congressional legislation reintroduced to protect state-legal marijuana markets

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A bipartisan group of lawmakers in the U.S. House and Senate reintroduced legislation Thursday to protect states’ ability to enact their own marijuana policies while resolving longstanding banking and taxation issues.

The STATES Act – which is expected to face tougher sledding in the Republican-controlled Senate versus the Democratic-controlled House – would create an exemption in the Controlled Substances Act to allow states to determine their own cannabis policies without fear of federal reprisal.

The measure was reintroduced in the House by Reps. Earl Blumenauer, an Oregon Democrat, and David Joyce, an Ohio Republican, co-chairs of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus.

They were joined in the Senate by Colorado Republican Cory Gardner and Massachusetts Democrat Elizabeth Warren.

“Forty-seven states have legalized some form of cannabis and the majority of Americans support its legalization,” Blumenauer said in a statement. “It’s time for Congress to catch up with the rest of America and fix a badly broken system.”

The STATES (Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States) Act is just one of a number of marijuana reform bills that have been reintroduced.

The bill potentially offers comprehensive solutions to some of the industry’s most vexing problems, and it’s the one that the Cannabis Trade Federation is lobbying hard to get passed.

While support by the Democratic-controlled House is possible, experts say the STATES Act will have a much tougher struggle even getting a hearing in the Republican-controlled Senate.

“Sen. Mitch McConnell is a key gatekeeper, and I have no reason to think he wants to see any significant reforms enacted in the coming year, especially after he got hemp reforms passed late last year,” Douglas Berman, director of Ohio State University’s Drug Enforcement and Policy Center, said in a February interview with Marijuana Business Daily.

A panel of experts polled said measures to resolve specific issues such as banking, veterans’ access to medical marijuana and taxation on a level playing field have the most likely shot at success in 2019.

Among those, the SAFE Banking Act has made the quickest progress.

In a landmark development for the cannabis industry, the banking measure – which would federally protect banks that serve marijuana businesses that comply with state laws – passed the House Financial Services Committee last week.

It could get a full House vote within weeks.

Jeff Smith can be reached at