Colorado Lawmakers Fall Short In Effort To Shield Recreational Marijuana From Federal Enforcement

Photo Credit: Denver Post

A $1.3 trillion plan to fund the federal government through the end of September won’t include protections for the recreational marijuana industry — a blow to Colorado lawmakers who tried to add that language to the must-pass bill.

The legislators wanted the measure to include a provision that would prohibit the U.S. Department of Justice from spending money to crack down on recreational use in states that had legalized the drug.

Congress has protected medical marijuana this way for the past several years — and did so again in the 2,232-page spending bill — but several Colorado lawmakers wanted to broaden that shield after U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions in January rescinded an Obama-era policy that generally left alone states such as Colorado that had legalized marijuana.

U.S. Sens. Michael Bennet and Cory Gardner of Colorado were among 18 senators who wrote to the Senate Committee on Appropriations in February with the request that its members “respect states’ laws regarding the regulation of marijuana.”

“It is our hope that the fiscal year 2018 appropriations will alleviate the turbulence the attorney general’s abrupt decision has caused and that the appropriations will help preserve the strong regulatory frameworks the states have created,” they wrote.

But the push to extend congressional protection to recreational marijuana — also supported by Colorado lawmakers such as U.S. Reps. Ed Perlmutter and Jared Polis — fell short as Democratic and Republican leaders tried to make a deal on a spending plan that could pass the House and Senate and avoid another government shutdown.

Complicating the efforts of marijuana advocates, said congressional aides, were a slate of other controversial issues fighting to get in — including new gun rules, border security funding and money for a major transportation project in the New York City area.

Don Murphy, the director of federal policies at the Marijuana Policy Project, said getting additional protections for recreational marijuana would have been a huge victory, given the current political environment.

“Maintaining the status quo in the Trump administration is a win,” said Murphy in reference to the continued shield for medical marijuana.