A bipartisan group of 62 members of Congress is asking House leaders to protect state medical marijuana policies and the patients and businesses that rely on them from federal enforcement agents and prosecutors.
“We respectfully request that you include language barring the Department of Justice from prosecuting those who comply with their state’s medical marijuana laws,” the lawmakers, led by Reps. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) and Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), wrote in a letter sent to the top Republican and Democrat on a key House Appropriations subcommittee on Friday. “We believe such a policy is not only consistent with the wishes of a bipartisan majority of the members of the House, but also with the wishes of the American people.”
The provision, which has been part of federal law since 2014, is a rider to appropriations legislation that prevents the Drug Enforcement Administration and other Justice Department agencies from spending money to interfere with the implementation of state policies allowing medical cannabis.
It was first approved by a House floor vote of 219-189 in 2014 and then again in 2015 by a margin of 242-186. It has also been adopted by the Senate Appropriations Committee in a series of bipartisan votes.
But it is at risk of expiring soon because it only concerns individual years’ spending bills and must be proactively renewed annually in order to remain in effect.
“We believe that the consistent, bipartisan support for such protections against federal enforcement, combined with the fact that similar language has been in place since December 2014, makes a strong case for including similar language in your base FY 2019 appropriations bill,” the lawmakers wrote in the new letter.
Although federal courts have ruled that the provision protects people who are using, producing or selling medical marijuana in accordance with state laws, its language does have some ambiguities and those rulings currently only cover certain states. Accordingly, the supportive legislators want its provisions to be clarified in the new funding bill.
“Because of parliamentary restrictions on what may be offered as a floor amendment to appropriations bills, the amendment has historically been narrowly structured,” the wrote. “To provide the Department of Justice, states, and the residents of those states additional clarity and stability, we request that you include slightly modified language that reads as follows:
“None of the funds made available in this Act to the Department of Justice may be used to enforce federal prohibitions involving the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of marijuana for medical purposes that are permitted by the laws of the state, the District of Columbia, or US. territory where the act was committed, or to prevent states, the District of Columbia, or US. territories from implementing their own laws that permit the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of marijuana for medical purposes.”
In January, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded a separate Obama-era Justice Department memo that has generally cleared the way for states to implement their own marijuana laws without federal interference.
In light of the Sessions move, some lawmakers want to expand the existing medical cannabis protections even further so that they cover all state marijuana laws, including those that allow recreational use and sales. Last month, for example, a bipartisan group of 18 senators sent a letter to congressional leaders asking that they broaden the language.
Such a measure came just nine flipped votes short of passage on the House floor in 2015. Since then, the number of states with legalization has more than doubled, meaning that a lot more members of Congress now represent constituents who would stand to be protected by it. But House leaders have consistently blocked cannabis amendments from even being considered over the past year and a half, so supporters have not been able to get another vote on the broader protections.
The new letter from lawmakers concerns funding legislation for Fiscal Year 2019, which begins on October 1. Separately, however, there is a concern that the medical marijuana protections may expire as soon as next week. That’s because Congress has not yet finalized Fiscal Year 2018 spending bills and has funded the government through a series of short-term extensions, with the current one set to run out on Friday, March 23.
Congressional leaders are expected to reveal an omnibus spending bill covering the period through September as soon as this weekend. While the Senate version of 2018 Justice Department legislation contains the medical cannabis rider, the House version does not due to leaders’ blocking a vote on the measure. It is unknown whether the Senate language will make it into the final bill set to be released in the coming days.
In a separate letter sent to appropriations leaders, 14 members of Congress are asking to cut funding for the Drug Enforcement Administration’s cannabis eradication program.
“Throughout the country, states are increasingly turning away from marijuana prohibition and enacting alternative policies to lower crime rates, free up limited law enforcement resources, and keep drugs out of the hands of children,” the wrote. “Despite both the Cannabis Eradication Program’s proven ineffectiveness and the seismic shift in attitudes on marijuana policy within Congress and across our nation, the DEA continues to spend millions of taxpayer dollars on this program, spending $22 million in 2015 alone. There is no justification for spending this kind of money on an antiquated program never shown to be effective.”
The DEA’s #Cannabis Eradication Program is an antiquated one never shown to be effective. That’s why w/ @RepJaredPolis & a bipartisan group of Members we’re urging House leadership & appropriators to stop funding this wasteful program. More on our letter: https://twitter.com/RepTedLieu
— Rep. Ted Lieu (@RepTedLieu) March 16, 2018