Lo­cal Repub­li­can law­maker op­poses re­peal of Obama-era mar­i­juana pro­tec­tions

Rappahannock News - - FRONT PAGE - By John Mccaslin Rap­pa­han­nock News staff

Repub­li­can Rep. Tom Gar­rett, who rep­re­sents Rap­pa­han­nock County, is not only op­posed to the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s re­peal last week of Obama-era pro­tec­tions for states that have le­gal­ized mar­i­juana, he is push­ing his own bill to elim­i­nate fed­eral penal­ties against any­body en­gaged in le­gal state-pro­tected mar­i­juana ac­tiv­i­ties.

“H.R. 1227, the End­ing Fed­eral Mar­i­juana Pro­hi­bi­tion Act,” Gar­rett tweeted this week of his pro-

posed leg­is­la­tion, “is a bi­par­ti­san bill that gives states the abil­ity to for­mu­late their own mar­i­juana pol­icy free from fed­eral in­ter­fer­ence.”

At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jeff Ses­sions an­nounced last Thurs­day that the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion was re­peal­ing the Obama-era “Cole memo,” which had pre­vented fed­eral au­thor­i­ties from crack­ing down on what in 2017 amounted to a $7.9 bil­lion mar­i­juana trade in­dus­try in states that le­gal­ized pot. In ef­fect, Ses­sions opened the door for pros­e­cu­tors to tar­get any­body in any state that flouts strict fed­eral laws sur­round­ing mar­i­juana.

Writ­ten in 2013 by Deputy At­tor­ney Gen­eral James M. Cole, the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion rul­ing al­lowed the na­tion’s 93 U.S. at­tor­neys to ex­er­cise pros­e­cu­to­rial dis­cre­tion in states where med­i­cal and recre­ational pot was le­gal­ized.

Gar­rett, who in­tro­duced his leg­is­la­tion early last year, was among the first Repub­li­cans to buck his party’s po­si­tion on en­force­ment in states where mar­i­juana has been le­gal­ized. Other Repub­li­cans, in­clud­ing in the Se­nate, are now fol­low­ing suit.

Colorado Sen. Cory Gard­ner, chair of the Na­tional Repub­li­can Sen­a­to­rial Com­mit­tee, warned the at­tor­ney gen­eral late last week:

“I will be putting a hold on ev­ery sin­gle nom­i­na­tion from the Depart­ment of Jus­tice un­til . . . Ses­sions lives up to the com­mit­ment he made to me in my pre-con­fir­ma­tion meet­ing with him. The con­ver­sa­tion we had that was specif­i­cally about this is­sue of states’ rights in Colorado. Un­til he lives up to that com­mit­ment, I’ll be hold­ing up all nom­i­na­tions of the Depart­ment of Jus­tice. The peo­ple of Colorado de­serve an­swers. The peo­ple of Colorado de­serve to be re­spected.”

In a tele­phone in­ter­view Tues­day evening, Gar­rett, a for­mer state as­sis­tant at­tor­ney gen­eral and com­mon­wealth’s at­tor­ney, told the Rap­pa­han­nock News “this is not a Repub­li­can or Demo­crat is­sue” be­cause his bill would sim­ply “pass power down to the states, which is what was in­tended by the Found­ing Fa­thers to be­gin with.

“The neat thing about this [leg­isla­tive pro­posal] is we have Repub­li­cans along­side Democrats,” the con­gress­man said, “and if we get this thing through com­mit­tee it will pass with a bi­par­ti­san ma­jor­ity and em­power states to make de­ci­sions for them­selves.

“I re­spect the rule of law,” stressed Gar­rett, who pointed out that he pros­e­cuted count­less mar­i­juana cases dur­ing his le­gal ca­reer, but of late “we are send­ing young peo­ple to fed­eral prison for an of­fense that is com­pletely ig­nored in an­other state. That’s ridicu­lous.”

Or, as Gar­rett fur­ther ex­plains it: “We are send­ing one per­son to prison in [an an­ti­mar­i­juana] state where they are en­tre­pre­neur of the year in [a pro-mar­i­juana] state.”

Fi­nally, sur­round­ing his leg­isla­tive pro­posal and Ses­sions’ re­peal of the Cole memo, Gar­rett ar­gued three points: 1) One can­not en­force fed­eral laws that are “un­just,” and mar­i­juana laws have be­come just that; 2) Mar­i­juana’s medic­i­nal ben­e­fits are well doc­u­mented, from fight­ing ad­verse ef­fects of “can­cer to PTSD,” and ad­min­is­ter­ing pot is far safer than pre­scrib­ing opi­oids; and 3) Why is in­dus­trial hemp widely im­ported yet Un­cle Sam for­bids grow­ing it de­spite myr­iad ben­e­fits to con­sumers, farm­ers, and the econ­omy?

Specif­i­cally, Gar­rett’s bill would amend the Controlled Sub­stances Act to pro­vide that the act's reg­u­la­tory con­trols and ad­min­is­tra­tive, civil, and crim­i­nal penal­ties do not ap­ply to with re­spect to mar­i­juana. It would re­move mar­i­juana and tetrahy­dro­cannabi­nols from sched­ule I (a sched­ule I controlled sub­stance is a drug, sub­stance, or chem­i­cal that has a high po­ten­tial for abuse; has no cur­rently ac­cepted med­i­cal value; and is sub­ject to reg­u­la­tory con­trols and ad­min­is­tra­tive, civil, and crim­i­nal penal­ties un­der the Controlled Sub­stances Act).

Ad­di­tion­ally, the leg­is­la­tion would elim­i­nate crim­i­nal penal­ties for any in­di­vid­ual who im­ports, ex­ports, man­u­fac­tures, dis­trib­utes, or pos­sesses with in­tent to dis­trib­ute mar­i­juana in states where it has been le­gal­ized. The bill does, how­ever, make it a crime to know­ingly ship or trans­port mar­i­juana into a state where its re­ceipt, pos­ses­sion, or sale is pro­hib­ited. A vi­o­la­tor in those states is sub­ject to crim­i­nal penal­ties: a fine, a prison term of up to one year, or both.

So far, 15 cospon­sors have signed onto Gar­rett’s bill, in­clud­ing Repub­li­can Reps. Dun­can Hunter and Dana Rohrabacher of Cal­i­for­nia, Don Young of Alaska, Scott Tay­lor of Vir­ginia, and Justin Amash of Michi­gan; as well as Democrats Ed Perl­mut­ter, Beto O’Rourke and Jarid Po­lis of Colorado, Earl Blu­me­nauer of Ore­gon, Tulsi Gab­bard of Hawaii, Raul Gri­jalva of Ari­zona, Pramila Jay­alpa of Wash­ing­ton, Ro Khanna of Cal­i­for­nia, Jamie Raskin of Mary­land, and Steve Co­hen of Ten­nessee.

To date, mar­i­juana has been le­gal­ized in eight states: Ore­gon, Colorado, Wash­ing­ton, Alaska, Cal­i­for­nia, Maine, Mas­sachusetts, and Ne­vada. In addition, while pot has not been le­gal­ized in lit­tle Wash­ing­ton, it has been in big Wash­ing­ton, D.C.

Mar­i­juana has been de­crim­i­nal­ized in an­other 14 states: Delaware, Mary­land, North Carolina, Con­necti­cut, Illi­nois, Min­nesota, Mis­sis­sippi, Mis­souri, Ne­braska, New Hamp­shire, New York, Ohio, Rhode Is­land, and Ver­mont.

Med­i­cal mar­i­juana has been le­gal­ized in 30 states: Mary­land, West Vir­ginia, Delaware, Penn­syl­va­nia, New Jer­sey, Alaska, Ari­zona, Arkansas, Cal­i­for­nia, Colorado, Con­necti­cut, Florida, Hawaii, Illi­nois, Louisiana, Maine, Mas­sachusetts, Michi­gan, Min­nesota, Mon­tana, Ne­vada, New Hamp­shire, New Mex­ico, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Ore­gon, Rhode Is­land, Ver­mont, Wash­ing­ton — and once again Wash­ing­ton, D.C.

Gar­rett: “We are send­ing one per­son to prison in [an an­ti­mar­i­juana] state where they are en­tre­pre­neur of the year in [a pro­mar­i­juana] state.”

Rep. Gar­rett’s bill would pro­tect state rights where pot is le­gal

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