NEW YORK -- Republicans and Democrats in Congress are coming together in defense of states' rights -- and marijuana.
Rep. Dana Rohrbacher (R-Calif.) introduced a bipartisan bill on Friday to protect marijuana users and businesses from federal prosecution when they are following state laws. The Respect State Marijuana Laws Act would shield both medical and recreational pot users.
"This bipartisan bill represents a common-sense approach that establishes federal government respect for all states’ marijuana laws. It does so by keeping the federal government out of the business of criminalizing marijuana activities in states that don’t want it to be criminal," said Rohrbacher, in a statement.
Despite promising not to go after medical marijuana dispensaries, the Obama administration has raided hundreds of them. Federal officials are still trying to make up their minds, moreover, about how to respond to recently passed referendums in Colorado and Washington state that legalized marijuana outright.
Rohrbacher's bill should take away any doubt: It would say that residents of states that take steps to reform drug laws on their own shouldn't be subject to federal harassment.
A Pew Poll released last week showed that a broad majority of Americans, even when they don't agree with legalizing marijuana, believe the federal government should not step in to punish users in states that do. Sixty percent of Americans said the federal government should not meddle in states that legalize pot.
"Marijuana prohibition is on its last legs because most Americans no longer support it," said Steve Fox, national political director for the Marijuana Policy Project. "This legislation presents a perfect opportunity for members to embrace the notion that states should be able to devise systems for regulating marijuana without their citizens having to worry about breaking federal law."
The bill is cosponsored by Reps. Justin Amash (R-Mich.), Don Young (R-Alaska), Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) and Jared Polis (D-Colo.). Rohrbacher, whose state has a large medical marijuana program, has previously introduced legislation seeking to reclassify marijuana at the federal level as a drug that does have medical uses.
The bipartisan makeup of the bill's cosponsors reflects increasing support among Republicans for ending or shifting the country's war on drugs. In the past two months, for example, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) has called for lessening marijuana penalties and evangelical media titan Pat Robertson has announced his support for outright legalization.