Cannabis and politics are inherently intertwined. Federal cannabis prohibition began in the United States with the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937. Since then, the relationship between cannabis and federal politics has been turbulent at best. Each administration has handled cannabis laws differently. Some are far more stringent than others. Most recently, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the repeal of the Cole Memo – which protects medical marijuana laws established at the state level. Last week, in an effort to defend state marijuana laws, Democratic Representative Barbara Lee from California introduced the Bipartisan REFER Act.

What Is the REFER Act

The REFER Act, which is co-sponsored by Representatives Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Don Young (R-AK), Dina Titus (D-NV), and Jared Polis (D-CO), would protect states with both recreational and medical marijuana laws. The bill would halt federal funding for any attempts by the justice department to impose federal laws in a state that has passed its own cannabis laws. More specifically, the REFER Act – also known as H.R. 4779 – will “detain, prosecute, sentence, or initiate civil proceedings against an individual, business, or property that is involved in the cultivation, distribution, possession, dispensation, or the use of cannabis in accordance with the law or regulation of the state or unit of local government in which the individual is located.”

Representative Lee pointed out that potentially billions of taxpayer dollars have been wasted through the federal government’s efforts to combat cannabis legalization. She said, “It’s time to stop wasting taxpayer money on the failed War on Drugs.”

This Bill Seems Familiar

While the REFER Act would accomplish many legislative goals for the cannabis industry, skepticism is necessary. There have been many ambitious bills related to cannabis legalization that have been proposed and never seen the light of day. One bill recently proposed by Congressman Matt Gaetz would have rescheduled cannabis as a Schedule III drug, which is the classification as anabolic steroids. The bill would’ve also promoted research into how medical marijuana can help prevent cancer.

However, due to many reasons, including Congress’ tendency to work extremely slow, pharma and alcohol lobbying, and Republican control of both Houses, Gaetz’ bill has not received the visibility it should. Though Gaetz’ bill was rather lofty, as rescheduling cannabis would have an enormous economic impact on the pharmaceutical and alcohol industries, it is clear that getting comprehensive cannabis legislation through Congress is next to impossible.

So Will There Be Protection Of State Marijuana Laws?

Reforming cannabis laws has historically proven to be a very difficult task. So many are skeptical about the REFER Act being passed. One cause for hope is that the bill is very similar to the Cole Memo. Much like the Cole Memo, the REFER Act wouldn’t change the legal status of cannabis federally. It would just direct federal tax dollars towards issues more pressing than raids and arrests in states where cannabis is legal..

The bipartisan uproar at Attorney General Jeff Sessions decision to repeal the Cole Memo led to the writing of the REFER Act and could promote its passage. However, Congress’ historic anti-cannabis slant will likely lead to this bill being killed on the House floor.

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