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Sen. Cory Gardner fails to get marijuana reform into criminal justice bill

The federal government won’t be easing its laws on marijuana as part of a criminal justice reform bill that’s expected to pass this week.

U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colorado, had hoped to attach an amendment to the proposed First Step Act to remove the threat of federal prosecution in states where cannabis is legal and lift restrictions on federally insured banks, which are currently barred from working with marijuana businesses. But Gardner and other senators hoping to offer amendments of their own were blocked by a procedural maneuver from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has made criminal justice reform a priority during the lame-duck session.

Gardner then sought unanimous consent for his amendment and was blocked by Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, who called the idea a “back door to legalization.”

“We’re the opposite of feeling defeated. We’re feeling energized,” Cannabis Trade Federation CEO Neal Levine said shortly after the amendment failed. “We just had a U.S. senator, who is in a leadership position in his party, say on the floor of Congress that he’s not going to give up this fight.”

Gardner’s amendment mirrors a bill he introduced with Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts, in June. Gardner said he plans to reintroduce that bill during the next Congress.

“If we can get a vote on it, I feel very confident we can get it passed,” Gardner said.

His office added that President Donald Trump still supports the idea.

Jerrod Dobkin, a spokesman for Gardner, told The Denver Post that the senator spoke with the president Tuesday about his plan to ease federal regulations on cannabis, and the president “reiterated his support” for the bill and pledged to sign it if it gets to his desk.

That’s an important point for Levine, who said there are a lot of proposed marijuana bills that go further than Gardner’s bill, which is called the STATES Act.