Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) is optimistic Congress will take up marijuana legislation this year in some form. Several Republicans have pending bills protecting medical marijuana and cannabis research they hope will make progress this year, despite resistance from the Trump administration.
“I’m fairly optimistic that this year will be the year that we can make great progress on this,” Rohrabacher told The Hill.
Rohrabacher said that growing bipartisan support will help move federal legislation.
“We had 68 Republicans vote with us last time, and I think it’ll probably be 75 or more next time around,” he said.
“Today’s constituency within the Republican Party has changed. I think that we will be able to have this and expand on this change among Republicans and that’s what’s going to give us the leverage to actually change the law,” he said.
A recent Gallup poll shows a majority of Republicans now support legalizing marijuana.
Freshman Rep. Matt Gaetz (Fla.) is one of several Republican lawmakers working to change cannabis law at the federal level. He’s currently working with House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) on legislation that would provide protection for public organizations, like universities, to do research on potential benefits of medical marijuana.
He told The Hill he’s “extremely optimistic” that his legislation will pass this year.
Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.), co-founder of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, co-authored an amendment that would prevent federal resources from being used to interfere with legal medical and recreational use of pot. He wants it attached to the next government funding bill as a temporary fix until legislation removing cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act.
He told The Hill that his bill doing so, the Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act, has Republican backing.
“I believe that if Republican leadership allowed a vote on either my amendment or my bill either would pass Congress,” Polis said.
Republicans may be warming up to the cannabis issue, but one key conservative — Attorney General Jeff Sessions — is not.
In early January, Sessions moved in the opposite direction from cannabis legalization when he rescinded the so-called Cole memo, a document drafted under the Obama administration that prioritized other federal crimes over pot possession. Under Sessions’ new guidance, attorneys general across the country can use their own discretion to enforce the Controlled Substance Act.
The move was met with harsh words from fellow Republican Rohrabacher.
“By doing that he is betraying his president and he’s also betraying the voters of this country,” Rohrabacher said.
“If anything, rescinding the Cole memo has lit a fire under more members of Congress and will likely help bond people together to ensure medical states are not targeted by the DOJ,” Gaetz added.
The Department of Justice declined The Hill’s request for comment.
It’s still unclear how U.S. attorneys will proceed and what will happen to cannabis businesses operating legally.
“Right now it’s just a waiting game,” said Morgan Fox, a spokesperson for the advocacy organization Marijuana Policy Project.
“Hopefully what this will do is spur Congress to act and make marijuana a state issue so that states can institute their own laws without federal interference,” Fox said.
Rohrabacher told The Hill that addressing the cannabis issue at the federal level will be one of his top priorities in 2018.