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House bill seeks to protect individuals in legal marijuana states from the feds

The Act would specifically exempt from federal prosecution people complying with state laws “relating to the production, possession, distribution, dispensation, administration, or delivery" of marijuana

February 14, 2017

Could Congress step into the breach and prevent the federal government from shutting down states’ efforts to legalize cannabis? A new bill by a California representative seeks to do exactly that.

The “Respect State Marijuana Laws Act,” by Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Coronado, would specifically exempt persons complying with state laws “relating to the production, possession, distribution, dispensation, administration, or delivery of marihuana” from federal prosecution.

Rohrabacher framed the issue as one of states’ rights and an overreaching federal government in a floor speech this week, saying that “For too long, Washington’s decisionmakers have pursued the same policies over a whole range of issues without regard for whether those policies are actually beneficial to the American people. In fact, they continue to support policies that have utterly failed-many of these things-because the intent sounds so good.”
 

Rohrabacher, who strongly supported Donald Trump in the presidential election, said that Trump’s election showed that the American people were seeking to shake up the status quo and reject failed policy decisions. “One such failed policy has been the U.S. Government spending billions of dollars and wasting the time of Federal employees-hundreds of thousands, if not maybe tens of thousands of Federal employees-in order to prevent adults from smoking a weed, marijuana.”

However, Trump’s newly-confirmed Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, has previously signaled strong opposition to marijuana legalization, leading many to wonder if he’ll push to use federal resources to shut down state legalization efforts.

The bill already has at least a dozen co-sponsors, including Republicans and Democrats from California and other states that are moving to legalize cannabis. Congress already has several pending pieces of legislation that seek to protect states that have legalized marijuana and take other steps to decriminalize cannabis at the federal level.

Rohrabacher emphasized in his floor speech that the bill would not do anything to change laws in the states that maintained strict cannabis prohibition, adding that “I think that this is a reasonable compromise that places the primary responsibility of police powers back in the States and the local communities that are most directly affected.”

One major marijuana advocate quickly hailed the legislation.

“This is commonsense legislation that is long overdue,” Robert Capecchi, director of federal policies for the Marijuana Policy Project, said in a press release. “It is time to end marijuana prohibition at the federal level and give states the authority to determine their own policies.

“States throughout the country are effectively regulating and controlling marijuana for medical or broader adult use,” Capecchi said. “Federal tax dollars should not be wasted on arresting and prosecuting people who are following their state and local laws.”

MassRoots noted that Rohrabacher also referenced the ongoing debate over health care reform, saying: “Remember, as we discuss people’s health care, Republicans over and over again say: You shouldn’t get in between a doctor and his patient. We believe in the doctor-patient relationship. That is true for medical marijuana as well. Do we believe in these principles?”

The bill is awaiting a hearing in the House Energy And Commerce committee.

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