In a move closely watched by the cannabis industry, an amendment by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), vice chairman of the Appropriations Committee, was approved Thursday, giving another year of protection from federal interference to medical marijuana businesses in states where it has been legalized.
The amendment, the Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment (see link here) amends the Commerce, Justice, Science (CJS) and Related Agencies Appropriations bill to prohibit the use of federal funds to prevent the implementation of states’ medical cannabis laws.
It passed overwhelmingly by voice vote.
The amendment has been included in each annual budget bill since 2014. Similar language has been carried in enacted CJS Appropriations Acts since FY15, when the House added it in a floor amendment and kept it in conference.
The only change to the Leahy amendment’s language from last year is that it includes new states (Indiana and North Dakota).
In a statement released Thursday afternoon, Leahy reminded cannabis business owners and operators that “the amendment does not prevent federal law enforcement from pursuing individuals or dispensaries that are not in compliance with state laws,” and that “without this provision, Attorney General Sessions has signaled he may target medical marijuana patients and providers for violating federal drug laws.”
The amendment does not prevent federal law enforcement from pursuing individuals or dispensaries that are not in compliance with state laws.
Industry advocates were quick to respond to the good news.
National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA) executive director Aaron Smith wrote in a statement that it was great to see members of the appropriations committee stand up for medical cannabis patients, and “the responsible businesses that serve them, and the states that have worked hard to create safe, regulated programs. Now it’s time for the House to do the same. Patients deserve access to care, states deserve respect, and members of the House deserve the opportunity to vote on amendments like this that have the strong support of their constituents.”
Whether or not the House of Representatives will take a vote on the amendment is unclear. They did not include its language in the version of the 2018 CJS bill that passed the House Appropriations Committee earlier this month. Last year, the amendment passed on the floor of the House by a vote of 242-186. If the CJS budget is approved in the Senate, the amendment will go to a special conference committee to reach a compromise with the House. If no budget is approved by September 30, the previous amendment will be automatically renewed for another year.
In a blog on the website for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), Justin Strekal, the political director at NORML, wrote that the decision to reauthorize the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment language by the Senate committee illustrates both compassion and common sense when it comes to marijuana policy. “Now, the majority of states and over 90 percent of the public approves of the use of marijuana as a medicine and Congress should not stand in the way of these reforms,” he wrote.
From the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), Don Murphy, a former member of the Maryland General Assembly and MPP’s director of conservative outreach, issued this statement: “More than half the states have taken a stand and said they want their seriously ill residents to have safe and reliable access to medical marijuana, and today the Senate Appropriations Committee listened. What was expected to be a very successful vote passed on an overwhelming voice vote, while opposition to the Leahy amendment was literally a whimper. That sound we heard in the Senate was the sound of a waving white flag as the federal war on medical marijuana patients and providers winds down.”
A Quinnipiac University National Poll in April found that American voters say 60 – 34 percent “that the use of marijuana should be made legal in the U.S.,” the highest level of support for legalized marijuana in a Quinnipiac University national poll. Republicans and voters over 65 years old are the only listed party, gender, education, age or racial groups to oppose legalized marijuana.
Voters also support 94 – 5 percent “allowing adults to legally use marijuana for medical purposes if their doctor prescribes it,” also the highest level of support in any national poll by the the university.
Voters oppose 73 – 21 percent government enforcement of federal laws against marijuana in states that have legalized medical or recreational marijuana. No group supports enforcement in states where marijuana is legal.