Canada Takes Steps to Legalize Recreational Marijuana, Will America Follow Suit?

June 22, 2018
Canada Takes Steps to Legalize Recreational Marijuana, Will America Follow Suit?

On June 19, 2018, the Canadian Senate passed legislation that would make Canada the second country, and first major economy, to legalize recreational marijuana use.  Although the formality of approval from the governor-general is required, sometime within the next two to three months recreational marijuana will be sold in Canada.  While Canada still has numerous issues to iron out in finalizing its policy, Canada’s legalization of marijuana begs the question of whether America would ever follow suit.

The short answer is….maybe. On June 7, 2018, Senators Cory Gardner (R- CO) and Elizabeth Warren (D- MA) introduced a bipartisan bill titled the Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States (STATES) Act, which would protect states that legalize marijuana from federal interference with their state laws.  A bipartisan, companion bill has also been introduced into the House of Representatives.  The Act would amend the federal Controlled Substances Act (“CSA”) so that the CSA would not apply “to any person acting in compliance with state law relating to the manufacture, production, possession, distribution, dispensation, administration, or delivery” of marijuana  In addition to protections from federal prosecution, the Act would also remove industrial hemp from the CSA, provide marijuana businesses greater access to banking institutions, by no longer holding marijuana transactions as a form of trafficking, and provide marijuana businesses certain much-needed tax relief.

To be clear, the Act is not a legalization bill.  In those states where marijuana legislation has not been enacted, marijuana businesses of any kind would still violate the CSA. In Pennsylvania, where medical marijuana businesses and usage have been authorized, recreational marijuana businesses and usage would still violate the CSA. The Act simply provides an exception to the CSA for those users and businesses complying with state law.

Though passage of the Act is not assured, in an era where opposing political parties agree on nothing, the Act continues to receive bipartisan support through additional sponsors, letters of support from governors, and even a tepid vote of support from President Trump. So while America is not likely to follow Canada’s lead on the marijuana industry any time soon, it appears that a states’ rights approach could provide the clarity and certainty needed for the marijuana industry.

If you have any questions regarding the Act or how it could impact you personally or your business, contact the firm’s Medical Marijuana Department.

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