Align U.S. cannabis law with state laws

In 2012, voters in Washington state passed Initiative 502, which legalized the sale, consumption and taxation of marijuana products. Including Washington, 23 states and the District of Columbia have legalized some form of marijuana, and in 2016, several more states are expected to consider marijuana legalization ballot initiatives.

Yet, marijuana possession or use for any purpose is still prohibited under the federal Controlled Substances Act, leaving participants in all of the state markets — including cancer patients — at risk of arrest by federal authorities.

This murky legal environment restricts states from being able to regulate as effectively as possible because they are hamstrung by federal preemption problems. The federal government should provide states already effectively regulating marijuana the certainty that their citizens will not face federal prosecution.

That’s why I introduced the State Marijuana And Regulatory Tolerance (SMART) Enforcement Act. It would protect medical patients, recreational users and businesses owners in states that have legalized marijuana from being prosecuted now or retroactively in the future. My bill builds on the current U.S. Department of Justice guidance for marijuana enforcement and recognizes the shared role states have traditionally played in policing marijuana offenses.

According to a Pew poll, 60 percent of Americans agree that the federal government should not force its law on states that have chosen to allow the use of marijuana.

Washington voters clearly made their decision. It has saved our state in costly legal expenses and created a new, growing industry, including countless small businesses. Since passage of Initiative 502, court filings in Washington for low-level marijuana offenses have dropped by 98 percent, saving the state millions of dollars in enforcement and judicial expenses. Washington has also collected more than $80 million in tax revenue from sales alone.

The SMART Enforcement Act would give the U.S. Attorney General the authority to waive the Controlled Substances Act for states that are effectively regulating marijuana themselves, such as Washington. It authorizes a waiver from the Controlled Substances Act for states that meet requirements preventing the distribution of marijuana to minors, violence or use of firearms in cultivation and distribution of marijuana, and drugged driving. And each waiver would have to be renewed after three years, allowing for reasonable oversight and reevaluation of the success of this approach.

By waiving the Controlled Substances Act with respect to marijuana, the SMART Enforcement Act would also allow banks to serve businesses in the marijuana industry that are currently being forced to operate on an unsafe all-cash basis. Local business owners in Washington have told me how they live in constant fear of robberies, describing the current situation as a “fire keg waiting for a match.”

While Congress could simply legalize marijuana nationally, that isn’t possible in the current political climate. We need a pragmatic and expeditious solution now and my bill would help provide the foundation and information for Congress to evaluate national legalization.

As states like ours move forward with legalization, it is foolish to keep businesses, communities and lives at risk by making them targets of criminals. We must adapt federal policy to the new reality.

It’s long past time for Congress to provide clarity on this issue. The SMART Enforcement Act does this by incentivizing states pursuing legalization to enact strong regulations that will protect public health and safety, allowing the federal government to step aside and leave marijuana regulation to the states.

U.S. Rep. Suzan DelBene, D-Wash., represents the 1st Congressional District.

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