The Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act of 1936 was implemented after 33 states had already passed cannabis prohibition legislation on a state level. After the DEA came on the scene, marijuana became classified as a Schedule I narcotic, defined as a substance with no accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.
The marijuana conversation, on a federal level, started to change, in 2013 when the Cole Memorandum was issued by the US Deputy Attorney General, James Cole. This memo was intended to set the precedence – the Justice Department would not interfere or enforce federal marijuana prohibition policy in states that had legalized and regulated the cultivation and distribution of cannabis. The Cole Memo didn’t change the federal system it merely allowed states that had voter-initiated policies to continue to operate without federal intervention.
Fast forward to January 2018; Jeff Sessions rescinded the Cole Memo. As of that time the United States had 46 states that had already established laws decriminalizing or permitting the sale of cannabis or cannabis products. This act of rescinding the Cole Memo created an uproar in many of the states that already had active, regulated cannabis programs in place.
In June 2018, just five months after the Jeff Sessions event two Senators (Massachusetts, Colorado) introduced a bill into the House of Representatives. Senators from Oregon and Ohio immediately sponsored this bill. Within 24 hours, President Donald Trump and 17 governors from various states around the country sent letters to Congress urging them to pass the measure. This bill with bi-partisan support is called The STATES Act.
The STATES ACT stands for The Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting The States ACT. It intends to provide safeguards for the states and associated residents regarding the regulation of marijuana. This bill does a few simple things:
- Amends the Controlled Substances Act so that if a person or business is abiding by the state regulations in place, the associated person and company will be protected by the provision that it is complying with state regulation.
- Amends the definition of marijuana to exclude industrial hemp.
- Prohibits distribution of marijuana over state lines
- Doesn’t allow distribution or sales of marijuana to people under the age of 21, unless for a medical purpose.
- Addresses the financial issues caused by federal prohibition. It clearly defines that state authorized cannabis programs that are compliant are not considered trafficking and are not considered “unlawful transactions.”
The journey from cannabis prohibition to cannabis legalization has been a tough journey. With more and more states coming online to support the dismissal of cannabis prohibition, it will be interesting to see how the federal legislation reacts to the state legislative efforts to decriminalize and regulate this plant we call cannabis.