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Kill all the lawyers: The second annual Cannabis Law Institute tackles the STATES Act

By Meg Ellis
Sep 12, 2018

The National Cannabis Bar Association held its second annual Cannabis Law Institute in Washington D.C. over the weekend. Keynote speakers included U.S. Reps. Earl Blumenauer, D- Oregon, and David Joyce R - Ohio, and the hot topic of conversation: the STATES Act.

The bipartisan Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States (STATES) Act was introduced by U.S. Senators Elizabeth Warren, D - Massachusetts and Cory Gardner, R - Colorado on June 7 of this year.

The proposed legislation would amend the Controlled Substances Act so that its provisions no longer apply to people using or distributing marijuana, so long as they were acting in compliance with their state or tribal laws relating to marijuana.

Understandably, this Act has set the legal community abuzz with inquiries. What would this legislation mean for state’s rights? Banking? Implementation? Not to mention, what will the DEA do without having marijuana as a Schedule I drug?


Sen. Elizabeth Warren/ Ben Wikler

What we learned at the Institute

The Cannabis Law Institute hoped to help answer some of those inquiries. Having partnered with The George Washington University Law School as well as the Minority Cannabis Business Association, the Institute offered multiple tracks for all comers, from pot-practitioners to policy advocates.

The MCBA also hosted a single-day policy track alongside the Institute, offering courses that addressed minority involvement in the cannabis industry.

With course tracks covering such subject matter as “The Intersection of Law and Policy” and “The Changing Status Quo,” attendees were probably hard-pressed to determine which courses would be the most beneficial for their burgeoning understanding of the legal cannabis industry.

One thing attendees could be sure of was that the Institute was going to start with a bang. Kicking off the conference were Representatives Blumenauer and Joyce, with the conversation title: “Discussing States Rights and Existing & Proposed Federal Protections of State-Legal Business.”

The Institute brochure stated that the Representatives would “Discuss the importance of respecting state’s rights and allowing states to explore cannabis as a sustainable economic engine.”

Representatives Blumenauer and Joyce have been surprisingly outspoken supporters of cannabis legislation, having co-sponsored the STATES Act as well as the Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment, the omnibus bill which protects states with legal medical marijuana businesses from federal prosecution.

In a statement announcing the introduction of the STATES Act, Representative Joyce stated that the federal government should “Trust the people of the states... If the people of these states have decided to provide help for those veterans and others suffering from pain and other health issues, we should allow them access without government interference."

Representative Blumenauer stated: "For too long the senseless prohibition of marijuana has devastated communities, disproportionately impacting poor Americans and communities of color. Not to mention, it's also wasted resources and stifled critical medical research. It's past time to put the power back in the hands of the people. Congress must right this wrong."

In addition to these bi-partisan opening speakers, the Institute included a wealth of knowledgeable speakers that could help tackle the nuts and bolts of the STATES Act. Attendees had the opportunity to listen to an introductory video from Sen. Warren, as well as discussions on federalism and state’s rights, business initiatives: taxation and banking, and financing and investment.


Sen. Cory Gardner/ Gage Skidmore

The STATES Act

For those of us who didn’t get to go to the conference, here’s a quick introductory course on the STATES Act, and why it’s essential.

Policy 101: The STATES Act proposes to ensure that each state has the right to determine the “best approach” to dealing with marijuana, including adopting policies, procedures, and regulations. The bill includes bureaucratic parameters which would ensure that those state-adopted policies ensure the safety of its citizens and are respectful to their state-neighbors, who may have different policies.

The bill would specifically amend the Controlled Substances Act so that its provisions no longer apply to those who distribute, cultivate, or use marijuana so long as they follow their state’s marijuana policies.

The Act would also amend the definition of “marihuana,” presumably to spell it correctly, under the CSA to exclude industrial hemp, as is defined by the Agricultural Act of 2014.

Most importantly the STATES Act addresses the long-contested banking issues that have plagued pot-business. The bill states that “compliant transactions” in the marijuana industry (medicinal or recreational) will not be considered trafficking, and therefore are not subject to unlawful transaction regulations.

For attendees of the Institute, and those interested in pot-politics, this Act certainly seems to fit the bill (pun absolutely intended) for many of the cannabis industries political woes. But it still has a long way to go.

Don’t forget that Republicans currently hold the majority in Congress. We still have to deal with U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and oh, yeah, the bill would have to survive the federal legislative process.

Hopefully, the Institute helped sway a few more lawfully-inclined brains towards progressive legislation. And surely Trump’s administration won’t do as Dick the Butcher suggested in Shakespeare’s Henry VI when he said, “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.” But who knows. It’s still early in federal bill-season yet!

 

*Photo: U.S. Department of Agriculture

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