Senate Approves Medical Marijuana Protections

The marijuana protections measure, part of an annual spending bill, did not include House-approved provisions for adult-use markets.

The United States Senate on Thursday voted 84 to 9 in favor of a budgetary measure that would protect the state-legal medical marijuana markets from the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ).

The news was first reported by cannabis industry news site Marijuana Moment.

Marijuana remains illegal at the federal level, even as 33 states have legalized marijuana for medical purposes. Since 2014, medical marijuana programs have been protected from federal interference through an amendment that has been in place and renewed each year.

This marks the first time that the provision was included within the House fiscal year 2020 Commerce-Justice-Science bill.

The measure prohibits the DOJ from using any federal funds to prevent the operation of state-legal medical marijuana programs. Still, because it is part of the country’s annual budget, the protections provided by the provision would subsequently only last a year.

Adult Use Markets Left Out

The new measure approved by the Senate does not protect the country’s 11 state-level adult-use marijuana programs from DOJ meddling. It is therefore unlikely that recreational use protections will be included before the final bill is signed into law.

In contrast, in June the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives voted with great bipartisan support for the first time to protect both medical and adult-use state markets from the DOJ.

“It’s our hope that the House will insist that today’s minibus appropriations package include the provision to restrict the Department of Justice from interfering with state-legal marijuana programs that passed with bipartisan support,” Justin Strekal, political director for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), said in response to the measure’s passage.

Like many issues, the difference in marijuana support generally falls along partisan lines, with Republicans still hesitant to support measures that go towards legalizing cannabis.

Including policy provisions in spending bills is not a standard practice in the Senate, which made broadening this yearly marijuana protections provision all the more difficult.

The measure is part of a larger bill that provides funding to several federal departments for the 2020 fiscal year. The “minibus” appropriations legislation needs to be approved by November 21st to avoid a federal government shutdown.

Cannabis Bills in Congress

Another budgetary provision introduced last week by Sen. Bob Menedez (D-NJ) would have called for research into the criminal justice effects of marijuana legalization. Menedez’s amendment, however, did not receive sufficient support in the Republican-controlled Senate to be debated for its inclusion into the large-scale appropriations bill.

Moreover, a measure passed the Senate Appropriations Committee that prevents Washington, DC from setting up a legal recreational adult-use market, leaving the District in a state of limbo in that area.

However, funding for the Department of Agriculture to implement hemp regulations was passed by the same committee. The USDA issued a draft of their hemp recommendations last week.

Cannabis News

While the medical cannabis provision in question provides temporary shielding to medical marijuana programs across the U.S., marijuana industry officials, business owners, and advocates are seeking a more permanent cannabis reform solution.

Keep up with the latest news in the cannabis space by regularly checking in to the Medical Marijuana, Inc. news page.