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Colorado Congresswoman Hopes to Codify Non-Enforcement on Legal Cannabis Businesses

Cannabis growing in a greenhouse in California. Photo: Cascade Creatives/Shutterstock.com

A Colorado congresswoman introduced legislation Monday that would stop the federal government from taking actions against businesses selling marijuana in states that have made its use recreationally or medically legal.

U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colorado, introduced the Respect States’ and Citizens’ Rights Act that, if passed, would amend the Controlled Substances Act to prevent pre-emption of state marijuana laws.

“Colorado’s marijuana-related business owners are just like any other legitimate business owners in our state, and are currently contributing more than one billion a year to our state’s economy,” DeGette said in the press release announcing the bill.

Under President Barack Obama, then U.S. Deputy Attorney General James Cole released a memorandum indicating that the Department of Justice would not go after cannabis businesses in states where cannabis is legal. However, when U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions was sworn in, he indicated he would go after cannabis businesses. Current Attorney General William Barr has said as long as those companies are in compliance with state laws, the Department of Justice will not intervene.

DeGette said, however, companies should not have to worry about the individual feelings of whoever is the attorney general. “There’s no reason why they should have to go to bed every night worried that the federal government could suddenly take it all away from them, and treat them like a criminal.”

In her announcement, DeGette said the amendment would also allow states to come up with their own framework to tax and regulate the cannabis industry.

Seth Goldberg, a partner at Duane Morris in Philadelphia, said this is one of a few bills seeking to change how the federal government looks at marijuana.

“This bill really seeks to codify and turn into law this practice of non-enforcement,” Goldberg said.

However, DeGette said the amendment would act as an additional safeguard for those states and companies operating within the law.

However, Goldberg said since the Obama administration, the federal government has practiced non-enforcement of state practitioners and has not indicated that will be reversed anytime soon.

“Even absent this legislation, there is no indication that the federal government is going to start to exercise enforcement actions against state compliant participants,” Goldberg said.

Goldberg said this kind of legislation would open up the industry on the state level.

“It would give participants in the industry a clear green light to do their business,” Goldberg said. “It would potentially open up the avenues for banking in the industry, for insurance in the industry and for a greater expansion of the industry.”