Marijuana amendment blocked from criminal justice reform bill

December 18, 2018 GMT

Criminal justice reform legislation pending on Capitol Hill will not include language resolving conflicting federal and state marijuana laws following a failed effort mounted Tuesday by Sen. Cory Gardner, Colorado Republican.

Mr. Gardner sought unanimous consent from his colleagues to consider amending the reform bill to add legal protections for people who use, grow, buy or sell marijuana in compliance with the patchwork of medical and recreational laws in place throughout most of the country, but his proposal was rejected by Sen. Charles Grassley, Iowa Republican, effectively bringing his effort to a halt.


“This amendment is inconsistent with current federal law and would allow states the right to break existing law,” said Mr. Grassley the outgoing chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee and the Senate’s second-most senior Republican.

“If there is an attempt to legalize across the country, we should have that debate and let the Congress decide the issue instead of creating a backdoor to legalization,” said Mr. Grassley. “This is inappropriate to consider in the context of a criminal justice reform bill.”

Coloradans legalized recreational marijuana in a 2012 ballot initiative and the state’s first-in-the-country rules permitting licensed and regulated retail pot shops to operate has paved the way for nine others to follow suit. A total of 33 states have passed laws permitting medical marijuana, meanwhile, notwithstanding the federal government considering the plant illegal regardless of purpose.

Nearly identical to a standalone bill announced previously by Mr. Gardner, the Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States (STATES) Act, the amendment would have effectively exempted state-legal marijuana activity from the U.S. Controlled Substances Act, the federal statute outlawing the plant.

“Everyday Coloradans of good faith follow Colorado law to a tee, yet they are still criminals in the eyes of the federal government,” Mr. Garder said on the Senate floor Tuesday. “Cancer patients using medical marijuana to control their pain and veterans who are using marijuana to alleviate post-traumatic stress, they suffer because they served their country. Federal law says they are criminals, even though they are perfectly legal within their right under state law. That’s the attempt we are making today, is to fix the inconsistency between federal and state law, to begin the debate.”

“This amendment at this time recognizes that you shouldn’t go to federal prison for following state law,” Mr. Gardner concluded. “That in its essence is sentencing reform.”


Mr. Gardner said during an interview earlier Tuesday that he expected his amendment would be blocked.

“I think we’re probably going to be blocked today by people who don’t want to have this voted on,” he told Cheddar. “They can use a procedure in the Senate to block our effort to offer the amendment, which is too bad because it does have, I believe, majority support in the U.S. Senate.”

The Senate is expected to vote on the full reform bill later this week.