12 Bipartisan Governors Urge Congress to Support Marijuana Reform

The state leaders called on federal lawmakers to pass legislation to allow for state-legal marijuana operations.

Governors from 12 states sent a letter to Congress this month, urging the federal lawmakers to pass legislation that would allow states to manage marijuana laws within their respective borders without interference from the federal government.

The Strengthen the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States (STATES) Act was introduced into the House by Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and David Joyce (R-OH) and in the Senate by Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Cory Gardner (R-CO). Donald Trump last year indicated he would support the STATES Act if Congress passed it.

The Governors’ marijuana letter was signed by the governors of California, Colorado, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, New York, North Dakota, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Utah, Washington State, and Vermont.

The group of governors calling for marijuana reform cross a variety of backgrounds and includes both progressive Democrats and more conservative Republicans.

“The STATES Act is a logical step for Congress because it honors state action by codifying protection at the federal level for those businesses and consumers operating in accordance with state law,” their letter reads.

“The STATES Act is not about whether marijuana should be legal or illegal; it is about respecting the authority of states to act, lead and respond to the evolving needs and attitudes of their citizens.”

The passage of such a law is necessary because federal policy regarding local enforcement of marijuana laws is fragile. Currently, congressional initiatives are blocking action from the Justice Department from cracking down on marijuana in these states.

Because such initiatives can easily be reversed, the regulatory framework establishing the market for the nascent industry is unstable at best.

The STATES would in effect put back into force the Cole memo, an Obama-era directive in the U.S. Department of Justice that declared marijuana prohibition should not be enforced in states that legalized its use. It was subsequently rescinded during the tenure of former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a long-time opponent of marijuana reform.

However, Sessions’ successor as Attorney General, William Barr, has expressed support for marijuana reform.

States Act Supported by Governors

Marijuana Banking Reform Still Needed

The governors’ marijuana letter also urged Congress to pass the SAFE Act to ensure that financial institutions can service marijuana-related businesses, which as of now are largely forced to operate on a cash basis.

Operating in such a manner is difficult when many transactions occur digitally. Moreover, having such large amounts of cash on hand creates a security risk for the businesses.

Because marijuana remains illegal on the federal level, banks are afraid of establishing relationships with such businesses for fear of reprisal. State laws cannot override the federal law prohibiting marijuana, prompting banks to be disinclined to accept their business.

A bipartisan coalition of 38 state and territorial attorneys general also recently called on Congress to pass the SAFE Act.

Despite marijuana being illegal at the federal level, 32 states have legalized medical marijuana and 10 have legalized recreational use.

The number of governors that support marijuana has grown in recent years, as the medical and financial benefits of legalization become more widely known and cannabis gains popular support.

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