Photo via iStock/ powerofforever
State-legal medical cannabis industries and their patients have been able to do business without fear of federal interference since 2014, thanks to an annual budget rider now known as the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment. This amendment prohibits the Department of Justice from spending any federal funding on the prosecution of cannabis offenses which are legal under state medical marijuana laws. This year — for the first time ever — senators have included these protections in the main body of the Justice Department’s budget bill, rather than through an amendment.
The original rider, previously known as the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment before Rep. Farr retired from Congress last year, has been successfully added to every federal budget bill since 2014. Last September, however, House Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions blocked the amendment from being added to the bill. Protections for the medical marijuana industry remained in limbo until this spring, as lawmakers passed numerous stop-gap bills before finally approving the 2018 budget, with the amendment intact, in March.
This year, Rep. Sessions has continued blocking any and all cannabis-related measures from coming up for votes before the full House. In order to avoid another showdown over the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment, Rep. Dave Joyce proposed language protecting state-legal medical marijuana to the House Appropriations Committee, which approved the provision with bipartisan support — preventing Rep. Sessions from blocking legislative discussion on the matter.
Further solidifying that victory, this week the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies approved its 2019 budget legislation, with language protecting state-legal medical marijuana included within the main body of the bill for the first time. The full appropriations committee must still vote on the bill this week, but this committee has approved MMJ protection measures before, and are expected to do it again.
“The inclusion of this provision in the base bill symbolizes just how far this issue has come,” Don Murphy, director of conservative outreach for the Marijuana Policy Project, said in a statement. “We have reached the point where even in a Republican-controlled Senate, a medical marijuana provision is not considered a poison pill and its support requires no further debate. Protecting state medical marijuana laws against federal interference is now viewed as common sense rather than controversial.”
Once the provision has been approved by the full Senate Appropriations Committee, the legislation will come up for debate in both chambers of Congress. If passed by both, and signed into law by President Trump, state-legal medical cannabis programs will continue to be safe from federal interference — at least until September 2019.
“The Senate Appropriations Committee finally read the writing on the wall and accepted the inevitable, that allowing the Department of Justice to interfere with state-legal medical marijuana programs is bad policy and losing politics,” Justin Strekal, political director of NORML, told Forbes. “Looking at the scorecard, today it's medical freedom: 1; Attorney General Jeff Sessions and his reefer madness ways: 0.”