U.S. Senator Cory Gardner expressed confidence earlier this week when discussing how “the votes are there” for getting a major marijuana reform bill pushed through the upper chamber. But he was soon shown that Capitol Hill just isn’t quite ready to embrace change.
On Monday, Gardner told Bloomberg that a bill he was co-sponsoring called the STATES Act, which would allow states to legalize marijuana without the threat of federal interference, had the support it needed to make its way through the Senate as an amendment to a more extensive criminal justice bill known as “The First Step Act.”
“The votes are there,” Gardner told the news source.
The STATES Act was the highly publicized bill of 2018 – the piece of marijuana legislation lawmakers felt they could get pushed through Congress because it didn’t force them actually to legalize the leaf at the federal level.
Instead, it was designed to amend the Controlled Substances Act in such a way that states that legalized marijuana could operate without federal intrusion. It would have increased access to banking services and other aspects of everyday commerce that the cannabis industry is sometimes forced to do without.
Unfortunately, the bill just never managed to gain any traction. This is typical with marijuana legislation on the Hill.
President Trump said earlier this year that if the STATES Act happened to slide across his desk, he would “probably” sign it.
It is for this reason that Gardner decided to downgrade the bill to an amendment. He told the Denver Post this was “by far and away the best shot” to get it pushed through. “I can’t think of a more appropriate piece of legislation than this bill to try as an amendment to,” he said adding that “the president supports this legislation, and in its purest form [the STATES Act] is sentencing reform.”
However, the lawmaker didn’t count on Senator Charles Grassley stepping in to block it from a vote, calling it a “backdoor to legalization.” Even though 10 states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for recreational purposes, Grassley said on Tuesday the amendment was “inconsistent with current federal law and allows states the right to break existing law.” Grassley also made comments suggesting now just wasn’t the time for the marijuana discussion.
There is hope that the STATES Act (or some other farther-reaching bill) will find new life in 2019. The Democrats will have majority control in the U.S. House of Representative, which may give marijuana reform a chance to move forward. The Senate, however, is not likely to change its stance on this issue – not without a fight. But lawmakers like U.S. Representative Earl Blumenauer feel that Senate support on nationwide marijuana legalization could be gained once the issue starts taking off in the lower chamber. Some say 2019 could be the biggest year yet for this issue.