A bill has been introduced in the House that would protect states with cannabis laws from interference by the Federal government. Known as the Restraining Excessive Federal Enforcement and Regulations of Cannabis Act (REFER Act), the bill would protect both medical and recreational cannabis at the state level by blocking efforts by the Justice Department to use federal funding to interfere with those states’ cannabis laws.
The bill, HR 4779, was introduced by Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) and Rep. Don Young (R-AK), and was co-sponsored by Reps. Jared Polis (D-CO), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), and Dina Titus (D-NV). Rep. Polis has previously introduced legislation in March 2017 that would de-schedule marijuana, removing it from the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), and regulating it like alcohol. That bill was also co-sponsored by Titus.
According to the text of the REFER Act, interference includes efforts by the federal government to “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.”
The REFER Act also provides protection for financial institutions who provide financial services to an entity operating in states where cannabis has been legalized. This is of utmost importance to the cannabis industry, which has long struggled with a lack of viable banking options. In the past couple of years, the number of banks offering services to cannabis businesses has increased significantly, but recent changes in government policy have created new uncertainty in both industries.
Since US Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded previous guidance for the cannabis industry on January 4, 2018, the future of both medical and recreational cannabis has seemed uncertain. Many state attorneys are vowing to continue operating under the laws of their state and in accordance with the practices and regulations that have been established therein, even though cannabis remains a Schedule I substance under federal law.
This legislation would go a long way towards keeping the cannabis industry secure and safe from federal interference, and would allow the industry to grow and thrive in the states where cannabis has been legalized. This legislation would help shield the industry from government interference while legislators work to move forward with either de-scheduling cannabis or working to regulate it differently than it is currently being regulated, as it is becoming clear that the governance by the CSA is no longer effective or useful, given that states are working to move around those existing federal limitations to allow cannabis.
The eventual de-scheduling of cannabis would also allow for the use of cannabis and other cannabinoids to advance research and medical technology, as well as allowing for other ancillary industries to spring up and grow alongside the quickly expanding cannabis industry. De-scheduling cannabis would also provide a reprieve for overworked police forces, who have spent years fighting the failed “War on Drugs” and whose resources would be better spent serving the communities in other ways, as well as decreasing the non-violent offenders in the prison system through fewer prosecutions for crimes related to marijuana.