DeGette introduced legislation last month which she said is a simple way to maintain federal drug laws while respecting states’ rights.
No matter how its members feel about marijuana use, a bipartisan group of House lawmakers wants to ensure that states can move forward with their marijuana laws without federal interference and has introduced legislation to make that happen.
Efforts to legalize possession of small amounts of the drug for adults ages 21 or older and to establish a system of regulation succeeded in Washington state and Colorado last month, with support from more than 55 percent of each state’s voters.
But marijuana is still classified under federal law as a Schedule I controlled substance — or a drug that has a high potential for abuse, among other criteria — which means it’s illegal in the eyes of the federal government. In a statement, the Justice Department said that its enforcement of the law “remains unchanged” and that it is reviewing the ballot initiatives.
Although Rep. Diana DeGette did not take a public position on Colorado’s amendment — in general, the Democrat said she doesn’t take stances on state legislation — she is concerned that the intent of Colorado voters could be superseded by federal law (PL 91-513). She introduced legislation (HR 6606) on Nov. 27 to prevent the federal statute from pre-empting state laws on marijuana, which she said is a simple way to maintain federal drug laws while respecting states’ rights.
“We’ve already had issues, like a number of other states that have legalized medical marijuana, with the federal government coming in and taking some action that would really harm our businesses in the state,” DeGette said. “So I just think it’s important to have this conversation about what’s the appropriate role of the federal government and the state government.”
Of the bill’s 10 co-sponsors, two are Republican: Reps. Mike Coffman of Colorado and Ron Paul of Texas. Coffman strongly opposes legalizing marijuana but said in a news release that he has “an obligation to respect the will of the voters given the passage of this initiative” and thus feels compelled to support the measure. A Paul spokeswoman said in an email that the retiring congressman also thinks “the voters in those states that have chosen different approaches to marijuana laws should be respected by the federal government.”
A number of other Republicans have also expressed interest in co-sponsoring the bill or voting for it if it receives consideration, DeGette said. But not all members are committed to the effort right now, even within the Colorado delegation.
A spokesman for Republican Rep. Scott Tipton said the congressman thinks discussions between the Colorado governor and the Justice Department will help determine whether federal legislation is necessary or appropriate. Across the Capitol, Sen. Michael Bennet is also waiting for the results of those conversations, according to a spokesman for the Democrat. And Republican Rep. Cory Gardner said he is “not inclined to co-sponsor the measure” and doubts that it will be heard on the House floor.
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