A very simplistic way to categorize the federal government’s current policies toward marijuana is through the prohibitionist label. While cannabis has been legalized in some form in 30 states across the country, the feds seemingly enact measures to cause confusion and consternation about the plant whenever possible. This is most clear through the actions of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who rescinded the Cole Memo, an Obama-era policy that protected state legalizing marijuana from potential federal persecution.
The STATES Act—which stands for Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States—could provide a federal solution to marijuana. Introduced by Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Cory Gardner, the potential bill would allow states to enact and regulate cannabis regulation free from federal overreach. President Donald Trump says he’ll probably end up supporting the STATES Act while a dozen bipartisan governors have urged Congress to pass the potential legislation. The bill also has seven bipartisan co-sponsors within Congress.
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In other words, the STATES Act has a real chance of passing. Obviously, this is potentially exciting news within the cannabis industry. But as The Weekly Standard recently argued, the STATES Act could signal a potential return of federalism in American politics. As Collin Roth explains, that presents some promising returns moving forward.
Federalism results in fifty different solutions, lowering the stakes for “losers” on policy decisions and providing a valuable laboratory of experimentation for other states to observe. It is, in many ways, far better than a single national solution imposed by Congress or the courts. Federalism has the benefit of alleviating the heightened alarm in American politics by promoting competition and embracing diversity. Lawmakers of both parties too often look for big, one-size-fits-all solutions that turn our national politics into an existential zero-sum game over controversial issues. If Republicans and Democrats can agree, in principle, on a federalist solution to marijuana, it just might open the door to more federalist solutions on other hot-button issues.
On a small scale, the STATES Act represents Republicans and Democrats agreeing to disagree about cannabis. But the STATES Act could also pave the way for experimenting with long-gestating problems like universal health care and immigration reform on the state level similar to cannabis legalization. Then we can pick what works and discard what doesn’t at the state level and implement on the federal level.
It’s an invigorating idea, and cannabis legalization might just be the guinea pig that pushes the federalism wheel forward.