Bipartisan bills to protect marijuana from federal crackdown introduced by Colo. members of Congress

DENVER – Efforts to protect states with legal marijuana programs from any possible federal crackdown are gaining bipartisan momentum in Congress, and several of Colorado’s lawmakers are playing a big part in trying to get legislation passed.

U.S. Reps. Diana DeGette (D) and Mike Coffman (R) introduced a bill Thursday that revises the federal Controlled Substances Act to keep Congress or any federal entities from interfering in legal state marijuana markets.

The two introduced a similar bill in 2012 after Colorado voters first approved the constitutional amendment that legalized recreational marijuana in the state, but it ultimately failed.

“This bill makes clear that we’re not going back to the days of raids on legal dispensaries, of folks living in fear that they’re not going to get the medical marijuana they need, or that they might get jailed for using it,” DeGette said.

“While I have opposed the legalization of marijuana, the people of Colorado voted for an initiative in 2012 that legalized marijuana and placed it in our state’s constitution,” Coffman said. 

“Since it this is clearly not a matter of interstate commerce, I believe that the people of Colorado had every right, under the U.S. Constitution, to decide this issue for themselves and as their representative in Congress, I have an obligation to respect the will of the people of Colorado and that’s why I’m reintroducing this bill with Congresswoman DeGette,” he continued.

Their bill comes a day after U.S. Sens. Cory Gardner (R) and Michael Bennet (D), along with a bipartisan group of senators, introduced a bill that would ease regulations on how marijuana businesses are allowed to deal with banks.

It would bar federal regulators from stopping or penalizing a bank from working with legal marijuana businesses or taking away FDIC approval from the bank. It would also stop banks and regulators from barring loans to people operating legal marijuana businesses.

While some Colorado marijuana businesses now allow people to use debit or credit cards, many still operate on cashless ATM or cash-only systems.

"The lack of access to banking services for marijuana businesses is a key issue in Colorado," Bennet said. "It raises significant public safety concerns for both employees and customers of these businesses and creates compliance and oversight challenges. 

Rep. Jared Polis (D) introduced a bill earlier this year that aims to have the feds regulate marijuana like alcohol.

Also introduced in recent weeks was a bill by Virginia Republican Rep. Thomas Garrett, which lifts federal restrictions on medical and recreational marijuana programs and allows states to operate their own. The bill also has support from both sides of the aisle.  

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