Gardner Takes to Senate Floor to Fight for States’ Rights and Protect States’ Legal Marijuana Operations

“Mr. President, I yield my time and will not give up this fight”


Washington, DC - Today, Senator Cory Gardner (R-CO) spoke on the Senator floor after his legislation to protect the marijuana industry in states across the country was blocked from being voted on as an amendment to the First Step Act.

STATES Act floor speech

NOTE: Click here or on the image above to view Gardner’s remarks.


Remarks as prepared for delivery:


Thank you Mr. President, I thank the Senator from Iowa, Chairman Grassley.


After much debate, disagreement, and compromise, the Senate this week is taking up a criminal justice reform package.  The package shows the American people that bipartisanship is alive.  Leaders on both sides of the aisle as well as the White House should be commended for their admirable and persistent cooperation and determination.


The package’s goals are noble: it is right to help those that have paid their debt re-enter society with the best possible chance to be productive contributors; it is right to take steps to ensure that sentences are fair and appropriately tailored to the defendant; and it is right to calibrate the way we treat those in custody based on the risk they pose to society.


But being from Colorado, it is hard to think about federal criminal justice reform without thinking about the biggest problem the federal criminal law creates for Colorado: the refusal to respect the will of Coloradans when it comes to marijuana.  Every day, Coloradans of good faith follow Colorado law to a T, yet they are still criminals in the eyes of the federal government.  Cancer patients using medical marijuana to control their pain and veterans who are using marijuana to alleviate the PTSD they suffer because they served their country – federal law says they are criminals.  The People do not think that.  So the federal law should change.


This disconnect doesn’t just effect the industry’s patrons, or even just its growers and retailers for that matter.  It also makes criminals of those outside the industry.  Plumbers, electricians, bankers, landlords and real estate service providers, employment and advertising agencies, insurance companies, HR services, and all of the everyday businesses that interact with the marijuana industry (like they do any other part of our economy) are affected by the federal law, too.  That’s because when they take money from a marijuana business federal law considers them money launderers – putting them at risk for both criminal liability and civil asset forfeiture.


The disconnect forces Colorado’s $1.5 billion market into the pseudo-shadows, where business is in hard-to-track cash, inviting dangerous robberies and hindering law enforcement efforts to ensure that legal marijuana sales benefits legitimate businesses rather than illicit cartels.  It also means that researchers can’t test marijuana for medical efficacy or to help better understand impairment because those researchers fear of losing federal funding.


All of this flies in the face of what the Colorado people have chosen for themselves.  Indeed, it flies in the face of the 33 states that now have some form of legalized marijuana, including 10 that allow regulated adult use.  This year alone, Oklahoma, Missouri, and Utah have passed laws establishing medical marijuana programs and Michigan and Vermont have passed laws permitting regulated adult use.  And Wisconsin voters in 16 counties overwhelming passed advisory referenda supporting legalization.


This isn’t fluke.  Recent polling from Quinnipiac shows more than 60% of the American people support legalized marijuana and 93% support medical marijuana.  The American people have made up their minds: this is happening. 


Let’s be clear: this isn’t just happening in “blue state” California and Massachusetts or “purple” states like Colorado.  It’s happening in “red” states like Utah, Oklahoma, and West Virginia.  And it’s happening in “swing” states like Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Missouri.


The bedrock principle of our government expressed in the Declaration of Independence is that governments derive their “just powers from the consent of the governed.”  As the federal government continues to ignore the will of the People, the People lose respect for the law.  The Congress must respond because one way or the other the People will have their say.


That is why Sen. Warren and I are offering the STATES Act as an amendment to the criminal justice package before the Senate.  The Act is simple and straight-forward.  Within certain basic federal guardrails, conduct in compliance with state marijuana law will not violate the Controlled Substances Act.  This legislation is the embodiment of the federalism our Founders envisioned.  It allows each state to move – if at all – at its own pace.  It lets states like Colorado be the laboratory of democracy the American people have come to expect.  But most importantly, it lets Colorado be Colorado, South Carolina be South Carolina, and Florida be Florida – and they all will have federal prosecutors backing up whatever decision they make with respect to marijuana.


The people of Colorado have made their decision.  I didn’t vote for legalization in 2012, but I respect my state’s decision.  Its people know that what is right for the Colorado might not be what’s right for the people of South Carolina or Florida.  But their decision should be respected and supported by the federal government, just like the decisions in every other state. 


I am all for helping those that have paid their debt to society, but there are many for whom there should be no debt.  That is why the STATES Act should be included in federal criminal justice reform. 


Let’s close with this map, over 95% of the population of the United States lives in a state where they have legalized some form of marijuana. Every state in green is a state that has legalized some form of marijuana. By the year 2022, this industry will be over $20 billion, all of which can’t be in the banking system because it’s against federal law, and what happens when you force a $20 billion all cash economy – I guess that’s what we ought to be dealing with here today. This isn’t just about banking, that’s a side effect of the STATES Act, the STATES Act recognizes that federalist principle that a state can decide this issue for itself.


This amendment at this time recognizes that you shouldn’t go to federal prison for following state law. That in its essence is sentencing reform. If we had a chance to vote on this amendment today the amendment would be germane, it would be a 50 vote threshold, simple majority up or down, and I know that this bill - this amendment has the support from this body on both sides of the aisle to fix this conflict and allow the states to make their own decisions without the heavy hand of Washington telling them what to do.


Mr. President, I yield my time and will not give up this fight.




Cory Gardner is a member of the U.S. Senate serving Colorado. He sits on the Energy & Natural Resources Committee, the Foreign Relations Committee, the Commerce, Science, & Transportation Committee, and the Budget Committee, and is the Chairman of the Subcommittee on East Asia, the Pacific, and International Cybersecurity Policy.