Republican Rep. Thomas Garrett of Virginia has introduced legislation that would remove the marijuana industry from federal prosecution under the Controlled Substances Act, leaving the decision of the plant's legality up to states.
On Feb. 27, the freshman member of Congress introduced a bill that would remove federal jurisdiction over marijuana and free up state legislatures to determine whether to legalize the plant. The legislation arrives amid signals from the Trump administration that the Department of Justice may crack down on marijuana sales, even in the 28 states that have legalized cannabis for medical or recreational purposes.
"Virginia is more than capable of handling its own marijuana policy, as are states such as Colorado or California," Garrett said when announcing his bill, according to The Washington Post.
Garrett added that his legislation could provide his state of Virginia, which has not legalized marijuana in any capacity, the opportunity to foster a lucrative industry.
"This step allows states to determine appropriate medicinal use and allows for industrial hemp growth, something that will provide a major economic boost to agricultural development in Southside Virginia," Garrett said.
The legislation has been co-sponsored by Democratic Reps. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii and Jared Polis of Colorado as well as Republican Rep. Scott W. Taylor of Virginia.
In 2016, the Drug Enforcement Administration announced that marijuana will remain a Schedule I drug. The classification means that the federal government views cannabis as a substance that has "a high potential for abuse ... has no currently medical use in treatment in the United States [and] there is a lack of accepted safety for use of the drug or other substance under medical supervision," according to Newsweek.
There has been growing support for marijuana legalization in Congress, with the a newly formed Congressional Cannabis Caucus in the House. One member of the caucus, Republican Rep. Dana Rohrabacher of California, has proposed a bill that would exempt marijuana industries that comply with state laws from federal prosecution, Civilized reports.
There has been growing concern within the marijuana industry that the DOJ, under the leadership of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, will crack down on cannabis sales despite state legalization. On Feb. 27, Sessions told reporters that he was looking into criminality associated with marijuana.
"States, they can pass the laws they choose," Sessions said, according to The Huffington Post. "I would just say it does remain a violation of federal law to distribute marijuana throughout any place in the United States, whether a state legalizes it or not."
Garrett noted that his bill was in response to Sessions' signals of a federal crackdown.
"During his confirmation, then-Senator Sessions pointed out that if legislators did not like this approach, they should change the laws accordingly," Garrett said.