Attach States' Rights Guarantee on Pot to Criminal Justice Reform, Argues GOP Senator

James MacWilliams prunes a marijuana plant that he is growing indoors in Portland, Maine, on Dec. 13. 2017. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty, File)

WASHINGTON — Colorado’s GOP senator wants to attach legislation he crafted with Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) to protect states’ rights on marijuana legalization to the criminal justice reform bill expected to come to the Senate floor for a vote this month.

The First Step Act passed the House earlier this year and has undergone some tweaking from Senate Democrats, drawing objections from some GOPs such as Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.). The reforms have long been pushed by White House senior advisor Jared Kushner, credited with bringing President Trump on board.

The bill’s reforms for federal inmates include easing mandatory minimum sentences, easing the “three strikes” rule particularly as it’s been applied to drug offenders, reducing the disparity between crack and powder cocaine sentences, retroactively increasing credits for good behavior from a maximum of 47 days earned per year to 54, and earning more time credits against their sentence by successfully participating in vocational and rehabilitation programs. Those who have committed more serious offenses and undocumented immigrants would not qualify.

Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) said today that the bill would be an ideal vehicle to move the Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States Act, which he and Warren introduced over the summer to ensure that the 46 states that currently have laws permitting or decriminalizing marijuana or marijuana-based products — along with Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico, Guam, and a number of tribes — are protected after the Justice Department earlier this year scrapped Obama-era guidance that limited enforcement of federal drug laws in legal pot states.

The bill amends the Controlled Substances Act to ensure that its provisions no longer apply to entities legally operating under state or tribal laws. Marijuana prohibitions, excluding medical marijuana, would include users under the age of 21 and distribution at transportation hubs such as truck stops and highway rest stops.

Gardner said he couldn’t think of a better way to mark this past Saturday’s 227th anniversary of the ratification of the 10th Amendment to the Constitution than passing his pot legislation.

“While we are debating criminal justice reform, we need to address the threat of prosecution by the federal government for people in Colorado that are operating legal businesses under state law,” he said. “And it’s not just Colorado: 47 states now allow some form of legalized cannabis. This year Oklahoma, Utah, and Missouri changed their laws to join 30 other states that allow medical marijuana.”

Gardner noted that recent polls show “around 65 percent of the country support legalization and 93 percent support medical marijuana.”

“The people are speaking. The states are leading,” he added. “It’s time for Congress to act to protect states’ rights. I call on my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to take up and pass this important amendment today.”