Law

Medical marijuana protections extended by debt-limit deal

UPDATE Monday 9:30 a.m.: Existing federal protections for medical marijuana states are expected to continue through at least Dec. 8.

The $15.3 billion disaster aid package, debt limit increase and government spending extension approved by Congress on Friday includes the existing Rohrabacher-Blumenauer provision, which prevents the Justice Department from using funds to interfere with the 46 states that have legalized some form of medical marijuana.

The aid bill, which was sent to President Donald Trump, extends the omnibus legislation passed in May and will fund the government through Dec. 8.

The short-term spending fix is also a short-term victory for Rohrabacher-Blumenauer sponsors, which were dealt a blow by the House Rules Committee earlier this week. The legislative committee nixed the amendment from House consideration for the fiscal year 2018 funding bill.

“We have at least three months of certainty now, but the fight isn’t over,” officials for Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Oregon, told The Cannabist on Friday.

That fight includes efforts to land the provision in the final spending bill, officials said, noting the language was included in the Senate Appropriations Committee’s approved version of the bill.

Original story: The U.S. House Committee on Rules has blocked a number of marijuana-related amendments from a federal appropriations bill, including the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment.

The GOP-led committee’s moves late Wednesday mean multiple amendments protecting existing and future state marijuana laws won’t be getting a vote on the House floor. Earlier Wednesday, Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-California, told The Hill that GOP leaders viewed the amendments as potentially divisive and planned to not have them go to a vote.

The most notable measure cast out of the must-pass appropriations bill was the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment, which would bar the Justice Department from using funds to interfere with existing state-enacted medical marijuana regulations. The amendment formerly known as Rohrabacher-Farr (Rep. Sam Farr has retired) has been in place since late 2014, when it received a 219-189 vote in the House, and was approved again in 2015, by a 242-186 vote. It has been extended through omnibus spending legislation set to expire at the end of this month.

In a joint statement released Wednesday night, amendment sponsors Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-California, and Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Oregon, condemned the committee’s decision, saying the move “goes against the will of the American people” and “is putting at risk the millions of patients who rely on medical marijuana.”

“Our fight to protect medical marijuana patients is far from over,” the statement continued. “The marijuana reform movement is large and growing. This bad decision by the House Rules Committee is an affront to the 46 states and the District of Columbia that have legalized use and distribution of some form of medical marijuana. These programs serve millions of Americans.

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“This setback, however, is not the final word. As House and Senate leadership negotiate a long-term funding bill, we will fight to maintain current protections.”

As The Cannabist’s Alicia Wallace previously reported, the potential short-term funding deal revealed Wednesday likely would include the existing Rohrabacher-Farr language, extending those protections through year’s end if it is approved.

Earlier Wednesday, Rohrabacher, and co-sponsors Blumenauer, and Jared Polis, D-Colorado, all testified before the committee that the medical marijuana protections are existing law and that public opinion is in favor of the existing medical cannabis regulations in 46 states.

“To deny (members of Congress) the right to have a vote, I think, is unconscionable,” Rohrabacher told the committee.

Said Blumenauer: “It would be a tragic mistake to lose the progress that we made.”

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Three amendments on banking were offered, sponsored by Dennis “Denny” Heck, D-Washington. They would have allowed for marijuana businesses to have access to banking by prohibiting the punishment of financial institutions that serve licensed marijuana businesses and preventing the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network from rescinding its guidance for banks that work with marijuana firms.

The measures were rejected on an 8-5 vote, with the four Democrats on the committee joined by Republican Rep. Dan Newhouse of Washington in favor of the banking amendments.

Other amendments blocked by the committee included additional protection for medical marijuana research, sponsored by Florida GOP Rep. Matt Gaetz, and another allowing the District of Columbia to use local funding to regulate and tax recreational marijuana, which D.C. legalized in 2014.

Staff Writer Alicia Wallace contributed to this report.

House Rules Committee members:
Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Texas (chair)
Rep. Tom Cole, R-Oklahoma (vice-chair)
Rep. Rob Woodall, R-Georgia
Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Texas
Rep. Doug Collins, R-Georgia
Rep. Bradley Byrne, R-Alabama
Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Washington
Rep. Ken Buck, R-Colorado
Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyoming
Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-New York (ranking minority member)
Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Massachusetts
Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Florida
Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colorado

Watch the committee hearing:

This article was first published at TheCannabist.co.