Editorial: When it comes to marijuana, it’s time for Congress to act
January 9, 2018
Over the past year, President Donald Trump has provided a case study in the fleeting nature of presidential executive orders and other administrative mandates. What one administration does can be easily undone by the next.
That happened last week, when U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions decided to reverse former Justice Department guidance about state laws that have legalized medical or recreational marijuana. That original guidance essentially took a hands-off approach to legal pot. Even with that guidance, marijuana remains illegal under federal law. In fact, simple marijuana possession remains a federal felony.
Even with that pass from the Justice Department, and as the cannabis industry exploded, particularly in Colorado and Washington state, there have been numerous federal obstacles in the way of the industry.
Marijuana-related businesses don't have access to conventional banking. Federal insurance — and regulation — covers the vast majority of banks, credit unions and other financial institutions. That means what's now an industry that measures revenue in the billions operates on a cash-only basis. That restricts access to capital for growth and complicates work as basic as payroll.
A good portion of Colorado's congressional delegation has in the past few days been making a lot of noise about Sessions' move last week.
Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner, a Republican, has vowed to hold up new Justice Department nominees until Sessions relents. Other representatives are talking about withholding funding from marijuana-related enforcement.
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Those steps might work. What would be better, though, is for Congress to do what it's supposed to do, and pass a law. As long as federal law criminalizes marijuana, the burgeoning industry will always be at the whim of unelected officials acting as they see fit.
It's frankly time to look at the law, given public support for legalized marijuana. As of the end of 2017, 30 states and the District of Columbia had passed some form of marijuana legalization. Massachusetts and California have recently legalized recreational use.
A Gallup poll in October of 2017 shows strong support for legalization.
The country seems to be at a tipping point regarding legalization — or at least ending the federal prohibition and leaving the matter to the states. Congress needs to pay attention to the people it works for. So does the president.
No executive order can withstand the force of a duly passed law. That's a job for the courts.
The Vail Daily Editorial Board is Publisher Mark Wurzer, Editor Krista Driscoll and Business Editor Scott Miller.
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