Congress Blog

Congress should stand with the majority of Americans and support Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment

In his first inaugural address, President Ronald Reagan famously stated, "All of us need to be reminded that the federal government did not create the states; the states created the federal government." In one phrase, Reagan underscored the fundamental and indeed revolutionary notion that power originates from the citizen, that the states are sovereign and that the powers of the federal government are to be limited.

I'm a conservative Republican who supports the Tenth Amendment. And I support cannabis reform; I am OPPOSED to the federal government's ongoing war on cannabis. As a committed conservative, Republican and constitutionalist, I believe the states are empowered to foster and grow their own economies, within their own borders and under their own laws. The states are sovereign entities of our federal Republic. They must be allowed the latitude and discretion to act on their own Constitutionally-guaranteed sovereignty.

It's no surprise that good and constitutionally-based policy makes for good politics. As we endeavor to grow our conservative movement--and the Republican voting bloc--we, as a party and as elected officials, must reevaluate our attitudes toward marijuana reform. We must also reaffirm our support of federalism and the power of the states to speak, act and legislate in a constitutionally guaranteed and sovereign manner.

That's why I was extremely disappointed that the Rules Committee of the House of Representatives blocked a floor vote on an important amendment to a spending bill that protects medical cannabis patients and businesses from federal prosecution. The bipartisan amendment, offered by Reps. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) and Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), prohibits the Department of Justice and the Drug Enforcement Agency from using federal funds to prosecute medical marijuana businesses in states where medical marijuana is legal. The amendment was first enacted in 2014, has been renewed twice. The Senate Appropriations Committee recently approved the amendment on a bipartisan voice vote.

As Congress considers compromise legislation, I hope they'll include the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment in the conference committee version of the bill. In doing so, they'll stand with the 94 percent of the American public who support medical marijuana for suffering people including veterans with PTSD, cancer patients, and those living with epilepsy, among many others. In doing so, they'll support the Tenth Amendment by allowing states to regulate their own state-based industries.

Public attitudes have changed regarding cannabis. According to an April 2017 Quinnipiac poll, 60 percent of voters believe marijuana should be legal in the U.S. This same poll showed that 94 percent of Americans support, "allowing adults to legally use marijuana for medical purposes if their doctor prescribes it." Even our own Republican President, Donald Trump has stated, "In terms of marijuana and legalization, I think that should be a state issue, state-by-state."

Not only do voters support cannabis reform, they also oppose federal intrusion into states that have democratically-enacted cannabis laws. Seventy-three percent of voters oppose, "government enforcement of federal laws against marijuana in states that have legalized medical or recreational marijuana." This view affirms the Tenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which states, "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people." Constitutionally speaking, the federal government must respect states' duly enacted laws and regulatory regimes for cannabis. Federal intrusion into states that have medical or adult use cannabis is an assault on our constitutional system.

How can we show our support for cannabis reform and federalism? The Department of Justice must uphold what has become known as the Cole memo, which provides guidance to federal law enforcement and prosecutors regarding enforcement in states that have regulated the cultivation and sale of cannabis. Better yet, Congress should codify the Memo underscoring the power of the states to determine their own policy on this issue. And Congress must undertake other legislative action to provide clarity and certainty to these voters and the burgeoning cannabis industry, such as including the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment in the conference committee bill. Reauthorization of this amendment will remove uncertainty and ambiguity from state-based, state-legal, and state-regulated cannabis industry.

Additionally, Rep. Carlos Curbelo's (R-Fla.) bill, H.R. 1810, would reform the IRS Tax Code to allow cannabis businesses to be treated like any other legal, state-based businesses deserves widespread support and speedy passage. Congress must also modify federal banking laws so that legal cannabis operations have access to traditional banking services. Since cannabis is still illegal under federal law, any profit by companies in the marijuana sector is considered illegal. Banks who accept deposits from cannabis businesses become open to government seizure and criminal prosecution. This banking reform is currently part of the CARERS Act of 2017. These policies, if enacted, will demonstrate our commitment to federalism and acknowledgment of changing attitudes of voters regarding cannabis.

We are the party of limited government. We are the party of personal liberty and responsibility. We are the "Big Tent" party. We must engage the millions of Americans whose views on marijuana reform and federalism are doctrinally in line with the fundamental tenets of conservatism. And in doing so, we'll promote sound policy, grow the movement and preserve individual liberty.

Suhail A. Khan is life-long Reagan conservative, served as a senior official in the George W. Bush administration and currently is a Member of the Board of Directors at American Studies Center, the Parent Foundation for Radio America and the American Veterans Center.

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