DelBene Introduces Bill to Protect State Enforcement of Marijuana Laws

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA: Congresswoman Suzan DelBene (WA-01) this week introduced the State Marijuana And Regulatory Tolerance (SMART) Enforcement Act to protect medical patients, recreational users and businesses in states that have legalized marijuana from being prosecuted now or retroactively in the future.

“My bill will fix the conflict between state and federal law by giving the U.S. Attorney General authority to waive the Controlled Substances Act for states that are effectively regulating marijuana themselves, such as Washington,” DelBene said. “It also resolves the banking issues that currently force dispensaries to operate on an unsafe, all-cash basis. These waivers will ensure people in states that have different laws than the federal government on marijuana are protected from prosecution, provided they meet certain requirements, as more and more states work to regulate marijuana in their own borders.”

Twenty-three states and Washington, D.C., have legalized some form of marijuana. Of those, Washington, Oregon, Colorado, Alaska and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational use of marijuana, while others have approved medical use of marijuana. And more are expected to vote on legalization in 2016. Yet, marijuana possession or use for any purpose is still prohibited under the federal Controlled Substances Act, leaving every participant in the state markets — including cancer patients — at risk of prosecution. Washington’s First District has more than a dozen state-licensed marijuana dispensaries.

States are currently unable to regulate as effectively as possible because they are hamstrung by federal preemption problems. The SMART Enforcement Act would fix this issue, while adhering to current U.S. Department of Justice guidance on marijuana enforcement and recognizing the shared role states have traditionally played in policing marijuana offenses. It authorizes a waiver from the Controlled Substances Act for states that implement robust regulatory regimes to address key federal priorities such as preventing the distribution of marijuana to minors, violence or use of firearms in cultivation and distribution of marijuana, and drugged driving. Additionally, this legislation would sunset all waivers after three years, allowing continued oversight and reevaluation of the success of this approach by Congress.

“According to a recent Pew poll, an estimated 60 percent of Americans agree that the government should not enforce federal marijuana laws in states that allow use. The SMART Enforcement Act acknowledges this voter sentiment while also ensuring states are operating in a safe and responsible manner,” said Paul Armentano, NORML’s Deputy Director. “Public sentiment and common sense are driving necessary and long overdue changes in state-level marijuana policies; America’s longstanding federalist principles demand that we permit these changes to evolve free from federal interference.”