Legalization is Coming: House Votes to Protect State-Legal Cannabis
The new measures will protect state-legal cannabis programs from federal interference, allow banks to serve the cannabis industry, and (finally!) allow legal weed sales in DC.
Published on June 27, 2019

Photo by Bill Chizek

The House of Representatives just voted to approve several new marijuana measures, a historic moment signaling that longstanding opponents to cannabis reform may finally be ready to throw in the towel.

Last Thursday, the House voted to approve Amendment No. 17 to the Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act of 2020, an annual funding bill for the Department of Justice and other federal agencies. The amendment, introduced by cannabis champion Rep. Earl Blumenauer, states that “none of the funds made available by this Act to the Department of Justice may be used [to] prevent states from implementing their own laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of marijuana," Reason reports.

A similar rider has been attached to every annual funding bill since 2014, but overwhelming opposition from former Attorney General Jeff Sessions and former Rep. Pete Sessions nearly killed the amendment several years in a row. The results were very different this year, with a resounding 62 percent of Representatives voting in favor of the rider, including 41 Republicans in addition to 226 Democrats.

Alabama Rep. Robert Aderholt spoke out against the amendment, arguing that cannabis is still considered a Schedule I drug with no recognized medical use. “Claims of benefits from smoked or ingested marijuana are anecdotal and generally outright fabrications,” Aderholt said, ignoring thousands of peer-reviewed research studies that conclusively prove that cannabis can treat a wide variety of ailments.

Blumenauer reminded Aderholt that his own constituents just voted to approve medical marijuana in his home state. “The evidence is clear,” Blumenauer said, according to Reason. “You can find that out with children in your state who use medical cannabis to stop extreme seizure disorders; people who use cannabis to be able to stop the violent nausea associated with chemotherapy; or veterans that use it for PTSD, traumatic brain injury, or chronic pain."

Lawmakers also managed to include two more reform measures in the same bill. A rider to protect tribal marijuana operations from federal interference was approved in a voice vote with no opposition. Another provision requiring the Food and Drug Administration to develop regulations for adding CBD to food and drinks was also approved without debate.

This week, the House also passed an amendment to a separate Treasury Department funding bill that will offer protections to banks that are willing to serve state-legal cannabis companies. Rep. Chris Stewart (R-UT) attempted to limit this amendment to only offer banking protections to medical marijuana businesses, but eventually backed down due to lack of support. The House approved the rider on Wednesday with little opposition.

Another major victory in the House concerns the legality of cannabis sales in the nation's capital. 

The residents of Washington, DC legalized the possession of cannabis back in 2014, but the House GOP leadership has prevented them from establishing a legal adult-use sales market. Every year since 2014, Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD) has successfully attached a rider to the federal budget bill that bars DC from spending its own money to regulate adult-use pot sales. This year, the Democratic leadership of the House declined to renew this rider, and Harris decided against proposing it again, likely realizing that it no longer had enough support to pass.

“House Republicans are slowly realizing that messing with DC’s marijuana legalization is a losing proposition,” Queen Adesuyi, policy coordinator with the Drug Policy Alliance’s Office of National Affairs, told Marijuana Moment. “Their Senate counterparts should be taking note.”

Indeed, although each of these amendments marks a historic win for cannabis reform in the House, the Republican-dominated Senate must still approve them before they can become law. Senators will begin debating its own versions of these funding bills over the next month.

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Chris Moore
Chris Moore is a New York-based writer who has written for Mass Appeal while also mixing records and producing electronic music.
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