/Congress to Vote on Protecting State Cannabis Programs

Congress to Vote on Protecting State Cannabis Programs

Congress will be voting on a proposal that would protect currently existing cannabis programs across the U.S.

A proposed, bipartisan amendment from the House Rules Committee was presented on July 28. If passed, it would create protections for existing state cannabis programs, as well as any tribal medical cannabis programs. It also specifically bars the Justice Department from meddling in medical cannabis-related affairs. Currently, only the annual renewal of limited protections for cannabis programs exists (it was originally passed in 2014 as a part of the omnibus spending bill). The exact timeframe of this discussion is currently unknown. 

The proposal is led by Representatives Earl Blumenauer, Tom McClintock, Eleanor Holmes Norton and Barbara Lee. Together, they published a joint “Dear Colleague” memo a week ago in regards to their proposed appropriations revision. In the memo, they summarized their hopes to add “language preventing the Department of Justice from using any funds appropriated by Congress to enforce federal laws regarding activities that are legal under state, territorial, or tribal law with regard to marijuana, regardless of whether the marijuana laws are recreational or medicinal.”

Blumenauer, a longtime and steadfast supporter of cannabis reform, spoke on July 26 about the changing landscape of cannabis and increase in public support. “Let’s continue to protect state-legal activities while we move towards full legalization” he said. “The longer you delay, the worse it is. In the interim, I strongly urge that we enact this amendment to be able to provide some stability.”

This amendment proposal was last voted on, and approved, in the House of Representatives with a vote of 267-165 in June 2019. However, it wasn’t added to the final legislation that was sent to the President’s desk at that time. Since the last vote was cast, eight more states have legalized recreational cannabis, which only strengthens the cause.

The federal protections amendment is just one of many cannabis-related proposals currently being discussed.

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Congress Focused on Cannabis

Additionally, an amendment from Representative Doug LaMalfa moved forward for consideration by the House Rules Committee as well. His amendment removes the protections that are currently in place for medical cannabis. Although according to Marijuana Moment, the Democrat majority isn’t likely to pass it. LaMalfa has also presented two other cannabis-related proposals that did not advance to the floor.

Representative Jay Obernolte’s filed an amendment to support the eradication of illegal cannabis grows in Southern California with a $25 million in funding, which was cleared in a floor vote. “This is a catastrophe for everyone involved, including the folks who are trying to follow the law and pursue legal marijuana cultivation,” he told the House Rules Committee.

Other movements include additional proposals to funding for Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies. One spending report mentions the Drug Enforcement Administration seeking to increase the number of approved cannabis manufacturers allowed to research cannabis legally (currently the University of Mississippi is the only approved facility). 

Protections are being sought out by non-cannabis substances as well, including psychedelics. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez recently proposed an amendment to examine the effects of psychedelic substances such as MDMA, psilocybin and ibogaine as a possible medical treatment. She originally pitched this in 2019, and it was rejected by the House, but unfortunately it was also rejected again on July 27. “We got a little closer to ending this outdated, war-on-drugs-era policy last night. Last Congress, we had 83 votes. This Congress, we had 139, including seven Republicans. We’ll keep bringing it up until the times catch up. We’re undeterred!” she said in a Tweet on July 28.

Cannabis is being discussed now more than ever. Just a few weeks ago, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and a few other senators joined to propose the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act, which would enact federal legalization across the country. Whether the act will progress far enough to land on President Joe Biden’s desk still remains to be seen, but there are plenty of other proposals to help improve cannabis legislation and other substance reform in the meantime.