Rep. DeGette stands up for states’ rights

There is a growing amount of conflict within government regarding the legalization of marijuana, putting states and the federal government on opposing sides.


Luke Sutherland, an ex-marine, smokes marijuana medicinally to manage pain. Photo by Ryan Longaker |

On May 18, Rep. Diana DeGette introduced the Respect States’ and Citizens’ Rights Act of 2017 which will amend the Controlled Substances Act.

“I introduced this bill and it goes in and amends the preemption clause. So right now the Controlled Substances Act said that this shall preempt state law, but my bill says except where a state has legalized marijuana,” DeGette said.

Time Magazine stated that by 2020, 18 states are expected to have legalized marijuana for adult usage. However, cannabis is still classified as a Schedule I drug, which is a huge problem for the federal government.

According to the Drug Enforcement Agency, Schedule I drugs are defined as drugs, substances or chemicals with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.

As far as the federal government is concerned, marijuana and heroin are on the same level. Bearing in mind how marijuana is currently legal for recreational use in eight states, this is a huge problem from a logistical standpoint alone.

“So far I’ve gotten some bipartisan support for the bill, but I’ve had difficulty getting Paul Ryan and the leadership in Congress to a vote,” DeGette said.

The biggest threat to the bill and recreational marijuana is Attorney General Jeff Sessions. DeGette is worried that Sessions’ decision to not honor state’s’ choice regarding recreational and medicinal marijuana will impact states ability to do business with legal cannabis.

Sessions’ decision also impacts those who use cannabis medicinally. MSU Denver student Luke Sutherland is one of those individuals. Sutherland is an honorably discharged veteran of the Marine Corps who sustained nerve damage during his training. He has a prescription to smoke cannabis to cope with the pain.

“If I could make the rules, all substances would be legal and substance abuse not be criminal. It’d be treated as a health issue and there would be more research into people who struggle with drug abuse,” Sutherland said. This sentiment is not one shared by the attorney general.

Sessions sent a letter to Congress in May blaming marijuana for a national drug epidemic and a possible long-term boost in violent crime.

“Smoking marijuana, in addition, has significant negative health effects,” Sessions said.

However, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine released a report in January about the health risks of smoking marijuana. According to the report, it is difficult to provide conclusive proof regarding marijuana’s negative or positive effects because of its designation as a Schedule I drug.

According to the LA Times, Sessions wrote that the Justice Department “needs to have free rein to use all laws available to enforce the Controlled Substances Act.” Even if medical marijuana remains unscathed, recreational marijuana is still legal for adult use in eight states. MSU Denver student Kaylea Butler is inclined to agree with the states over the federal government.

“I’m a real fan of states rights, so no, I don’t think government should have a say on medical or recreational marijuana,” Butler said.

Thus far, Speaker Paul Ryan plans to do nothing with the bill. Nonetheless, more states are legalizing cannabis medicinally or recreationally every election cycle, although the attorney general is currently promising to take that away. Because of the continual internal conflict, this problem is positioned to become incredibly exacerbated.

Lawmakers say the House won’t have the option of ignoring this bill and the larger issue at hand and they will have to make a final decision regarding adult usage of cannabis.

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