Photo via Flickr user Gage Skidmore
Despite growing popular and legislative support for federal cannabis reform, U.S. lawmakers have differing views on whether Congress will can any progress on pot in the near future, says a new report from the Las Vegas Review-Journal. At last week's annual Marijuana Business Conference and Expo in Las Vegas, Reps. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) and Dina Titus (D-NV) joined cannabis lobbyists Michael J. Correia of the National Cannabis Industry Association and Michael Liszewski of The Enact Group on a panel to discuss the current state of federal cannabis policy.
“We were gaining momentum,” Titus said, referencing the Obama administration's hands-off policy towards state-legal cannabis. But now that the Trump administration has taken power, “that’s flipped and we’re more on the defensive,” she qualified. For the past several years, a federal budget rider known as the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment has prohibited the Justice Department from spending federal funds to prosecute any medical cannabis business or patient complying with state law. “That’s the only thing holding (Sessions) back,” said Liszewski.
This amendment is set to expire on December 8th after Republican legislators blocked it from being attached to a 2018 budget bill back in September. At the panel, Rohrabacher said that he has been promised by the Republican leadership in Congress that the amendment will be reattached to the bill. However Titus added that she was “not as trusting as Mr. Rohrabacher about what the leadership says.”
Titus explained that one of the primary issues making the future of federal cannabis enforcement uncertain is that Congress has been unable to pass a law guaranteeing protection for canna-legal states. Pro-cannabis legislators have only been able to pass these protections via amendments, which must be annually renewed. Because of this, Sessions and his allies in Congress have a new chance every year to roll back these protections.
Rohrabacher told the audience that Sessions and his allies represent a small segment of Americans that still believe in “Reefer Madness” myths that any cannabis user is “going to grow their hair long and go fornicate in the park.” The panelists agreed that Sessions was making it difficult for cannabis reform to succeed in Congress, but Correia noted that the support for medical cannabis at least is growing steadily, even among Republicans. “Hopefully we don’t go backwards,” he said.