The STATES Act has emerged as one of the most prominent and important pieces of federal legislation affecting cannabis legalization. Acting to replace the Cole Memorandum that Attorney General Jeff Sessions revoked last year, the bipartisan bill would effectively end cease the federal ban on cannabis, turning all cannabis legalization decisions over to the state level. Each state could decide their policies on cannabis without fear of federal prosecution, in short.
The bill has received support on both sides of the aisle and even found an ally in Donald Trump. As one of the bill’s original sponsors, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren is enthusiastic about its passage. But as she revealed in a recent Rolling Stone interview, the legislation has stalled since its introduction last summer because of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnel, who has remained adamant about cannabis retaining its Schedule I drug classification and continuing cannabis prohibition.
Warren has latched onto the cannabis legalization movement in recent years, supporting the STATES Act, as well as Sen. Cory Booker’s Marijuana Justice Act. In talking with Rolling Stone, one of the more illuminating nuggets Warren shared was how “Sessions has acted as a catalyst in getting people up off their rear ends and moving on this issue.”
“Let me describe it this way: We are in a moment when Jeff Sessions highlighted aggressive law enforcement on marijuana and a lot of folks here in Congress looked at each other and said, ‘That’s a bad idea.’ What Cory [Gardener] and I have done is give them a place to channel that where we can make real change. Now we just need to get a vote from Mitch [McConnell],” Warren said.
The federal government needs to get out of the business of outlawing marijuana. States should make their own decisions about enforcing marijuana laws.
— Elizabeth Warren (@SenWarren) April 20, 2018
Warren also revealed that when Sessions revoked the Cole Memo, Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner called a meeting with senators whose states would be affected. Though the Cole Memo had its drawbacks—marijuana businesses couldn’t access legal banking for examples, said Warren—its protections were valuable to states with legalized cannabis. How would the senators respond?
So we’re all sitting around a table. A few people show up—maybe 10 show up. And people are talking about it, and they’re talking about how hard it would be to legalize it at the federal level and what could we do. And I said, ‘Why not just use a state’s rights approach?’ That is, if the state acts, then the federal government backs off. If the state doesn’t want to act they can leave federal law in place but leave this up to the states. And Cory’s eyes lit up, and he said ‘That’s an interesting approach. We might be able to do something with that.’
So Cory and I left the meeting, kept working on it, hammered out a bill. And Cory went out and talked to a lot of Republicans about it, and I’ve talked to some as well. We’ve got plenty of colleagues on the Democratic side who will support this, and Donald Trump said it sounded like a good idea to him. He’s said it, I think, three different times now. So I’m pretty hopeful that if we could get a vote in Congress that we could actually get this passed.
However, Warren’s pro-cannabis views have been an evolution a few years in the making. She told Rolling Stone she publicly endorsed and voted for Massachusetts legalizing adult-use cannabis in 2016, but that wasn’t exactly the case. As has since been debunked, Warren dodged publicly endorsing or condemning the legislation, repeating that she was “open to the possibility of marijuana legalization.”
But criticizing Warren on such an issue is trivial at best. Warren has demonstrated the hope we reserve for all public officials—that they may allow their views to grow and be shaped over time as they digest new information and listen to their constituencies. In becoming a leader of the marijuana movement in Washington, Warren has done precisely that.
You can read the rest of Warren’s interview with Rolling Stone here.