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Sen. Warren Rolls Out Bill To Ensure States Can Enforce Own Marijuana Laws

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., asks questions during a hearing of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, on Capitol Hill in Washington last December. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)MoreCloseclosemore
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., asks questions during a hearing of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, on Capitol Hill in Washington last December. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren joined a Colorado Republican on Thursday to roll out federal legislation that would resolve much of the tension between the federal prohibition on marijuana and the growing pot industries in states that have voted to legalize marijuana, like Massachusetts.

The Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States Act (STATES Act) seeks to ensure each state the right to determine the best approach to marijuana regulation within its borders, Warren said. The bill would make the federal Controlled Substances Act not applicable in marijuana cases where someone is acting within the laws of their state.

"Outdated federal marijuana laws have perpetuated our broken criminal justice system, created barriers to research, and hindered economic development," Warren said. "States like Massachusetts have put a lot of work into implementing common sense marijuana regulations — and they have the right to enforce their own marijuana policies."

Warren introduced the bill alongside Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner, a Republican who has been critical of U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions' revocation of Department of Justice guidance that generally protected state-legal marijuana.

Gardner said the STATES Act "ensures the federal government will respect the will of the voters — whether that is legalization or prohibition — and not interfere in any states' legal marijuana industry."

The bill would remove industrial hemp from the definition of marijuana and clarify that state-legal marijuana transactions do not constitute trafficking, an attempt to address banking and finance barriers the federally-illegal marijuana industry faces.

The National Conference of State Legislatures came out in support of the Warren/Gardner bill on Thursday.

"This federal framework provides states with the tools necessary to build effective, state-specific policies and regulations ensuring public safety and economic growth. NCSL continues to support states’ sovereignty, respectively, to determine the best legislative path forward, free of preemption and federal overreach," NCSL Executive Director William Pound said.

Massachusetts is less than a month away from the date recreational marijuana can be legally sold in its borders. So far, the board charged with regulating the industry has not approved any licenses for industry hopefuls.

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