Sen. Gardner fails to legalize cannabis with a bill amendment

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Sen. Gardner fails to legalize cannabis with a bill amendment

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Thor Benson / Cannabis News Box Contributor

Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) attempted to attach what was essentially a version of the STATES Act, which he’s a sponsor of, to the recently passed criminal justice reform bill called the First Step Act.

This attempt to amend the bill was thwarted by Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), a known legalization opponent, who blocked the amendment. The STATES Act would remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act, which would mean states could legalize cannabis without federal interference.

Art Way, state director of the Drug Policy Alliance’s Colorado office, said one of the reasons this is so important to Colorado cannabis advocates is it would free cannabis businesses up when it comes to banking issues. Banks have been extremely hesitant to work with cannabis businesses because of the fact cannabis is illegal on the federal level.

“This is one area that has been the thorn in the burgeoning industry’s side since inception,” Way said. “The issue is paramount for business owners and once dealt with we can more easily address other aspects such as overregulation and equity provisions.”

Though Gardner is part of the Republican Party, which has largely resisted cannabis legalization compared to the Democrats, he’s been a consistent cannabis policy reform advocate and knows how important this issue is to Colorado voters. Way said Colorado politicians are essentially expected to fight for legalization.

“Gardner has been a leader on this issue in the midst of former [Attorney General] Sessions and the Trump administration as a whole,” Way said. “Anyone representing Colorado in Congress should ensure reform of marijuana law is a priority.”

Gardner attached the amendment to the criminal justice reform bill because he sees legalization as a major criminal justice issue. Outside of how the amendment passing would have affected the cannabis industry, it would have helped ensure far fewer people are going to prison for cannabis possession or sales.

“It’s hard to think about federal criminal justice reform without thinking about the biggest problem that federal criminal law creates for Colorado: the refusal to respect the will of Coloradans when it comes to their decision on marijuana.,” Gardner said after the amendment was killed. “Every day, Coloradans of good faith follow Colorado law to a tee but they are still criminals in the eyes of the federal government.”

Sen. Chuck Grassley is currently chairman of Senate Judiciary Committee, but he will be replaced by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) in January. It’s unclear if Graham will be more friendly to legalization efforts, but you can pretty much bet Gardner will try to get him on his side when it comes to cannabis issues.