Congress recently extended an amendment that prevents the U.S. Department of Justice from interfering with the medical marijuana industry.
The existing amendment that provides federal protections for medical marijuana states has been extended through December 8. Congress swiftly approved a budget deal earlier this month to provide emergency aid package for victims of Hurricane Harvey. That bill, approved 316-90, also included the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer Amendment.
The amendment prohibits the U.S. Department of Justice from using federal funds to interfere with state medical marijuana programs or prosecuting cannabis businesses operating legally within those states. It has continued to be extended by Congress since it first became law in December 2014. Previous to the passing of this new budget bill, the amendment had been renewed through September after surviving an expiration date in May.
There was concern that the efforts by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions to eliminate medical marijuana protections would influence Congress’ decision on whether to extend the amendment. The House Rules Committee, led by prohibitionist Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX), earlier this week blocked the amendment introduced by Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) and Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) from being heard by the House during budget negotiations. Had the amendment not been included in the budget deal, medical marijuana protections would have expired September 30.
“We have at least three months of certainty now, but the fight isn’t over,” officials of Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Oregon, told The Cannabist.
The fight ahead for medical cannabis advocates includes efforts to have the medical marijuana amendment included in the final spending bill. Earlier this year, Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) successfully offered and passed the amendment in the Senate Appropriations Committee’s approved version of the bill. This means the language will be considered in a conference committee, regardless of the earlier blocking efforts of the House Rules Committee.
“While the action provides a measure of certainty for the millions of medical marijuana patients and the clinics and businesses that support them, much more needs to be done,” Rohrabacher and Blumenauer said in a joint statement. “More than 95 percent of Americans now have state-legal access to some form of medical marijuana. The American people have spoken, and Congress needs to hear them. Ultimately, we need permanent protections for state-legal medical marijuana programs, as well as adult-use. Prohibition is a failed policy.”
Twenty-nine U.S. states and Washington D.C. have passed medical marijuana laws. Voters in Oklahoma will have the opportunity to consider a medical cannabis measure November 2018, and campaigns to certify ballot initiatives are underway in Utah and Missouri.
A poll from earlier this summer found that three out of four Americans believe individual states should be able to make their own laws regarding governing the use and sale of marijuana without interference from the federal government.
“Our fight to protect medical marijuana patients is far from over,” Rohrabacher and Blumenauer said in a statement earlier this month. “The marijuana reform movement is large and growing… These programs serve millions of Americans… As House and Senate leadership negotiate a long-term funding bill, we will fight to maintain current protections.”
Keep up with the latest developments in the cannabis industry by regularly visiting the Medical Marijuana, Inc. news page.