Sen. Gardner's STATES amendment blocked from criminal justice reforms

An attempt by Senator Cory Gardner to add to the Senate’s freshly passed criminal justice bill language that would have prohibited the federal government from interfering in state medical marijuana programs has failed. An objection to Gardner’s move to call up the amendment came from Senate Judiciary Chairman Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, one of the lead sponsors of the sentencing legislation.

The amendment, which Republican Senator Garner was pushing as part of a sweeping criminal justice overhaul dubbed the First Step Act was based on the STATES Act, legislation the Colorado senator introduced with Massachusetts Senator, Democrat Elizabeth Warren back in June.

In a speech on the Senate floor, Gardner stated, “This legislation is the embodiment of the federalism our Founders envisioned. It allows each state to move — if at all — at its own pace. It lets states like Colorado be the laboratory of democracy the American people have come to expect. But most importantly, it lets Colorado be Colorado, South Carolina be South Carolina, and Florida be Florida — and they all will have federal prosecutors backing up whatever decision they make with respect to marijuana.”

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“This amendment at this time recognizes that you shouldn’t go to federal prison for following state law,” Gardner said. “That in its essence is sentencing reform. If we had a chance to vote on this amendment today the amendment would be germane, it would be a 50 vote threshold, simple majority up or down, and I know that this bill — this amendment has the support from this body on both sides of the aisle to fix this conflict and allow the states to make their own decisions without the heavy hand of Washington telling them what to do.”

Calling on his colleagues on both sides of the aisle to protect state’s rights as they pertain to cannabis Garnder pointed to recent polls showing that a full two-thirds of voters in the U.S. support legalization of marijuana and a whopping 93 percent are in favor of legal medical marijuana programs. “The people are speaking. The states are leading. It’s time for Congress to act to protect states’ rights,” Gardner said in his speech.

The First Step Act, onto which Garnder was attempting to piggyback his bill, is a sweeping criminal justice reform measure. Although a version of the bill passed the House earlier this year, it has undergone drastic changes in the Senate. Among those changes is an allowance for easing federal prison sentences.

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Gardner has met with President Trump on multiple occasions this year and claims that Trump has assured him that Colorado’s programs are safe regardless of the fact that former Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded federal guidance contained in the Cole Memo back in January.

Before yielding the floor, Gardner assured his colleagues that they have not heard the last of it and reiterated that state-legal marijuana businesses deserve immunity from federal harassment and full access to the American financial system.

Over 95% of the US population lives in a state where some form of marijuana is legal. This isn't a fluke, the American people have spoken and this is happening. My amendment to the First Step Act has been blocked, but I will not give up this fight.

— Cory Gardner (@SenCoryGardner) December 18, 2018

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