Local Republican lawmaker opposes repeal of Obama-era marijuana protections

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

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 proposed 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 anti-marijuana] 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.

About John McCaslin 202 Articles
John McCaslin is the editor of the Rappahannock News. Email him at editor@rappnews.com.