Last Thursday the House Appropriations Committee attached an amendment to the fiscal year 2019 commerce, justice, and science appropriations bill that would prohibit federal spending to interfere with state medical marijuana programs or to prosecute medical marijuana businesses that comply with state laws. The amendment does not change marijuana’s status as a federally controlled substance, nor does it protect recreational use.
The provisions are identical to what was once known as the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment and later the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment. In its first incarnation, it became law in 2014 as part of the congressional spending bill. Since then it has been attached to a variety of spending bills and consistently renewed.
What’s different this year is that the full House will have to vote on the bill, a vote that House Rules Committee Chair Pete Sessions of Texas has blocked for several years. Supporters of the legislation ran an end-around on Sessions this year, however, by inserting the medical marijuana language in the Appropriations committee.
A total of 29 states and the District of Columbia currently have laws permitting the use of medical marijuana. And if members of Congress can do anything, that thing is count votes.
More than half the states have legalized medical marijuana and more than 60% of Americans believe marijuana use should be legal, and an even larger percentage — up to 93% — support legalizing medical marijuana.
The medical marijuana language in the Appropriations bill could still be removed by the Rules Committee, but that could prove to be a political mistake as Republicans and Democrats are currently vying to be the political party most in favor of legalizing marijuana.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions (no relation to Pete) opposes marijuana use in all its forms and in January rescinded the Obama Justice Department’s look-the-other-way enforcement of federal marijuana laws in states that had legalized the drug.
Michael Liszewski, a policy advisor at the Drug Policy Alliance, is cited by Forbes:
[Thursday’s vote] shows that protecting state medical marijuana programs from interference by the Department of Justice is no longer a controversial issue when members of Congress are given an opportunity to vote on this issue. The House Appropriations Committee stands with the 90 percent of Americans, including supermajorities of all Republicans and Democrats alike, who think Jeff Sessions and the Department of Justice have no business disrupting state medical marijuana programs. The only thing standing in the way of more comprehensive federal marijuana reform proposals is a small handful of committee leaders who are blocking these bills and amendments from moving forward.
That’s a small handful of people with an awful lot of power though.