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Bipartisan Bill Would Shield States from Federal Marijuana Crackdown

A marijuana plant at the Botanacare marijuana store in Northglenn, Colo., the day before the start of legal sales in the state, December 31, 2013. (Rick Wilking/Reuters)

Senators Cory Gardner (R., Colo.) and Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.) unveiled a widely anticipated bill Thursday that, if passed, would shield states from federal interference in their legal marijuana markets.

The bill would not federally legalize the sale and possession of marijuana, but would bar the federal government — via an amendment to the Controlled Substance Act — from prosecuting marijuana users who comply with local, tribal, and state laws regulating the substance. It would also remove a central obstacle to the growth of the legal-marijuana industry by allowing marijuana businesses access to federally insured banks.

“The federal government is closing its eyes and plugging its ears while 46 states have acted,” Gardner said in a statement. “The bipartisan, commonsense bill ensures the federal government will respect the will of the voters — whether that is legalization or prohibition — and not interfere in any states’ legal marijuana industry.”

The bill contains certain prohibitions, such as banning the sale of marijuana to those under 21, except for medical purposes, and prohibiting its sale at transportation centers.

“This is not a bill that forces legalization on any state that doesn’t want it,” Warren said during a press conference with Gardner. “We are trying to take care of business in Massachusetts, in Colorado. We are trying to respect the voters of our states that said, ‘This is how we want to [organize] business around marijuana’…and we just want the federal government to get out of the way and let them do it.”

The legislative push comes amid a renewed federal effort, led by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, to crackdown on legal marijuana markets, despite President Trump’s repeated promise to respect states’ rights on the issue.

Sessions, who famously said that “good people don’t smoke marijuana,” announced a shift away from the Obama administration’s stance of non-interference in January, directing district attorneys to begin once again prioritizing marijuana prosecutions.

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