A pair of Colorado Congressman — one Republican and one Democrat — just pledged that they will do everything they can to prevent U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions from interfering with the state’s marijuana laws.
While Sessions has so far been coy about his Justice Department’s approach to state cannabis policies, he and other Trump administration officials have sent a mixed bag of concerning and somewhat hopeful signals in recent weeks.
But just be safe, Rep. Mike Coffman, a Republican who is against legalization, and Rep. Jared Polis, a Democrat who favors it, are working together to prepare legislation to make sure the feds can’t come after people following state law even if they want to.
“I’m very opposed to the legalization of marijuana. I was even opposed to medical marijuana,” Coffman said in a telephone town hall on Wednesday. “But the people of Colorado voted for it and put it in the state’s Constitution… I think Colorado had the right to make this decision…in my conservative view of the United States Constitution.”
Even while marijuana remains illegal under federal law, reformers have used the budget appropriations process in recent years to restrict how the Justice Department can interfere with state laws. Under a rider that is current policy, Sessions’s department is not able to spend money going after people who are in accordance with local medical cannabis policies.
In 2015, a broader amendment to protect all state marijuana laws — not just medical use ones — failed by just nine votes.
For a number of reasons, reformers are optimistic that they can easily win a vote on the amendment next time. For one thing, there are now dozens more members who represent states with legalization, thanks to the new initiatives that voters approved in November. And Democrats — who have historically been more supportive of cannabis amendments in Congress than Republicans have — picked up seats. Also, a number of retiring prohibitionist Republicans were replaced by new freshman GOP members who have spoken out in favor of scaling back prohibition.
Coffman said he’s ready to push the amendment to passage this time. “I’ll have to fight the attorney general on this and I’ll probably have to do that through the appropriations process in denying him funding based on enforcement, if he does that,” he said. “And I hope he doesn’t.”
Polis shares the optimism.
“I’m very confident that with more states than ever legalizing marijuana this last election and with a lot of new members of congress who are likely more supportive of marijuana law reform than older members we’ll have a majority and pass this amendment when we have a chance to bring it to the floor,” he told Denverite in an interview published Wednesday. “If we successfully attach it and it becomes law, no attorney general — despite what they might want to do — would be able to use the funds that Congress gave them to crack down on activities that are legal under state law with regard to marijuana.”
But that’s if there is a vote on the amendment this year.
Reformers have reason to be concerned, because last year House leadership begin restricting the scope of policy riders that were allowed to come to the floor in accordance with the rules that spending bills are considered under.
Last summer, proposed amendments on banking services for marijuana businesses and Washington, D.C.’s ability to spend its own money regulating cannabis were blocked from even being considered on the House floor.
So while legalization advocates are confident that they have the votes to pass the broader state marijuana protections, it’s an open question as to whether they will even get the opportunity.