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What is the Purpose of the States Reform Act?

Updated January 5, 2023

In 2021, media outlets across the country covered the historic introduction of the States Reform Act.

They once again covered this legislation given its focus during a recent hearing held by the House Oversight Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties.

Originally, Americans for Prosperity announced that it would be supporting the bill and noted that it was “the first comprehensive, Republican-led legislation to end the federal prohibition on cannabis.”

AFP has continued urging Congress to advance this important legislation and elevating the voices of our activists alongside the Cannabis Freedom Alliance so that state autonomy will be restored.

Why was this bill introduction so important? What problem are these members of Congress attempting to solve?

A failed approach to marijuana policy

Federal laws regulating cannabis were adopted more than 50 years ago. They still reflect the outdated perspective that this plant “has no currently accepted medical treatment use” and is extremely dangerous to consume.

This perspective has resulted in our federal and state governments spending trillions in taxpayer money to catch and punish millions of Americans for the use and sale of cannabis.

The number of annual arrests related to cannabis skyrocketed by more than 320 percent between 1970 and its peak in 2009.

In total, law enforcement agencies have arrested more than 17.2 million Americans for cannabis offenses since 1985.

These law enforcement activities have disproportionately affected communities of color even though rates of drug use are similar across all communities.

What have been the outcomes of this investment of trillions in taxpayer money?

  • Trends in marijuana use show no consistent response to these enforcement efforts and the prevalence of cannabis use has increased among many age groups compared with the 1970s.
  • Law enforcement agencies have shifted more and more resources away from their core mission of solving and preventing property and violent crime and toward drug enforcement efforts. Police now arrest someone as a suspect in a historically low percentage of violent (41%) and property (14%) crimes — leaving too many victims without justice and jeopardizing public safety.
  • The black market for cannabis has continued to thrive and is only beginning to erode because of competition from the expanding legal market.

Bottom-up solutions to cannabis reform

After decades of trying the same tactics without different results, some state leaders have begun to question whether their states are taking the right approach to cannabis policy.

The volume of these questions was elevated by a growing body of research revealing that marijuana can be an effective treatment for certain medical conditions and an admission from experts that it lacks some of the dangers associated with other drugs, such as fatal overdoses.

Most states have now at least implicitly recognized the failures of prohibition and the potential promise of marijuana as an innovative medical treatment by allowing their citizens access to certain products. They have attempted to do so in ways that better control product quality and access among children.

Today, 21 states allow adults to use marijuana and 37 states have a medical marijuana program. Recent reforms occurred in states as diverse as Alabama, Connecticut, Missouri, New Mexico, and Maryland.

Federal control of cannabis without teeth

The federal government seems to have reached the same conclusion in practice even if cannabis continues to be located on Schedule 1 of the Controlled Substances Act.

Congress has adopted an amendment each year since 2014 that prohibits the Department of Justice from using taxpayer money in ways that would prevent states from implementing medical marijuana programs.

It repeated this action in late 2022 while also passing into law legislation that will reduce the legal barriers to cannabis research.

The past two presidential administrations have also chosen not to enforce federal laws in states that have adopted reforms. The Biden administration recently announced the pardon of more than 1,600 individuals for cannabis offenses.

These “hands off” approaches can be seen in the consistent year-over-year decline in the number of federal criminal cases involving marijuana — now less than 15%of what they were in 2011.

These actions should be applauded, but they do not solve the real problem. The status quo leaves patients, doctors, entrepreneurs, and law enforcement with significant uncertainty.

The Controlled Substances Act is still the law of the land according to the Supreme Court’s ruling in Gonzales v. Raich and the Constitution’s Supremacy Clause.

The principles of federalism mean that someone can be following every single regulation and guideline under state law but still be taking a chance they could be prosecuted and incarcerated under federal law.

This situation undermines both the credibility of federal law and the rule of law itself. It is difficult for citizens to respect our laws if they are not consistently enforced.

Inconsistent and arbitrary enforcement of a failed law is not a permanent solution.

The States Reform Act would restore state autonomy

As Justice Thomas recently stated the federal government’s “half-in, half-out regime…strains basic principles of federalism.”

The States Reform Act will finally end this confusing circumstance and restore the proper balance of power between states and the federal government.

As I recently discussed, the States Reform Act would:

  • Decriminalize cannabis at the federal level without forcing or incentivizing any state to change its laws.
  • Establish a federal regulatory and tax structure that is pro-competitive and defers to current state market regulations.
  • Protect military veterans by ensuring they will not be discriminated against in federal hiring or lose their VA health care benefits.
  • Safeguard children and teenagers from cannabis products and targeted advertising.
  • Provide retroactive sentencing relief and expungement for individuals convicted of crimes that will no longer be criminal under federal law.

How to get involved with cannabis reform and the States Reform Act

Americans for Prosperity exists to elevate the voices of grassroots activists who seek to tackle our country’s biggest challenges.

Recent polling reveals that an overwhelming majority of Americans support the long-overdue restoration of state autonomy in this area. As my colleague, Brent Gardner, previously noted:

It is time for members of Congress to catch up with their constituents who support the end of marijuana prohibition.”

Our team seeks to empower every one of these Americans to have their voices heard on this important issue and tell Congress to support the State Reform Act.

Want to join us? Get involved today.

Finally, these additional resources will deepen your understanding of the States Reform Act:

Take action today to end cannabis prohibition