In a late-night vote on Wednesday, the House Rules Committee blocked the full chamber of Congress from holding a vote to extend medical marijuana protections and several other cannabis-related amendments to next year’s omnibus Appropriations bill.
Since the 2014 Rohrabacher-Farr amendment — now known as the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment, cannabis-supporting House representatives have attached riders to must-pass bills in order to prevent the Department of Justice from using federal funds to prosecute medical cannabis patients and providers who comply with state law. After three successful years, this strategy might have finally failed.
On Wednesday, the rules committee also blocked the House from voting on the McClintock-Polis amendment, which would have had a similar effect to Rohrabacher-Blumenauer in preventing the Justice Department from interfering with states’ cannabis laws — only in this case, the protection would apply to places where cannabis had been legalized for adult recreational use. Finally, an amendment from Democratic representative Denny Heck of Vancouver, Washington that would have prevented the federal government from interfering with banks and lenders to choosing to work with cannabis industry was stalled by the committee’s efforts.
Tom Angell, Chairman of Marijuana Majority to let everyone know all hope wasn’t completely lost.
Concerning developments, for sure, but Senate put state medical marijuana protections in their bill already. Will be resolved in conference.
— Tom Angell deciduous_treenewspaper (@tomangell) September 7, 2017
In his tweet, Angell was referring to the conference committee process — when leaders of the House and Senate meet behind closed doors to merge their two bills into one fairly palatable version to send to the President. Conference committees are a unique animal and generally tend to be one of the less democratic processes in politics.
Like Angell, the D.C.-based Marijuana Policy Project expressed hope for a conference committee resolution in a statement Wednesday, following the vote by candlelight. They also noted the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment now stands to expire on September 30 unless the Senate version of the budget is approved.
“When an overwhelming majority of Americans oppose federal interference in state medical marijuana programs, it is unconscionable not to let their Representatives vote on whether to continue this policy,’ said MPP director of conservative outreach Don Murphy. “Unless Congress chooses the Senate budget version, millions of seriously ill patients and the legitimate businesses that provide them with safe access to their medicine will be at risk of prosecution.”
In the event that nothing comes to fruition by the end of September, on October 1, Attorney General Jeff Sessions will have free reign to attack the cannabis industry with all of the Department of Justice’s resources available to him as the nation’s top law enforcement official. There will be nothing to stop him from targeting state medical marijuana programs.
Sessions, one of the truest holdouts for a return to Reagan’s War on Drugs, has never minced words when it comes to marijuana. He even openly admitted that his opinion of the Ku Klux Klan was ruined only when he found out they smoked pot. And perhaps equally terrifying, Sessions recently sent Congress a letter urging it to vote down the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment and allow him to start prosecuting medical marijuana providers.
The cannabis industry’s leading voice in Congress, the National Cannabis Industry Association, issued a statement on the possible grim prospects ahead.
“The Committee’s decision to prevent consideration of the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment attempts to move the country backward at a time when the vast majority of voters are looking to Congress to reform our nation’s outdated marijuana laws,” said NCIA Executive Director Aaron Smith. “Nine out of 10 Americans support legal access to medical cannabis, making it perhaps the least controversial issue in American politics. Voters of all political persuasions generally agree the federal government should not be using limited resources to interfere in state medical cannabis laws. Shutting down regulated medical cannabis businesses will result in licensed patients resorting to the criminal market to obtain their medicine.”
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