One of the most anticipated presentations at the 2017 Marijuana Business Conference in Las Vegas earlier this month happened on the last day, Friday, November 17.
This was a federal policy update, scheduled to feature Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, who would be discussing the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment which was coming up for discussion in Congress – as it is every year – as an amendment to the annual budget bill. Instead, Congressman Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), the other co-chair of the caucus, took the stage.
The measure is one of the sole reasons that this industry has been able to develop, and, along with the Cole memo, are the only two federal documents that both guide and protect the industry and its state’s right mandate. (The Cole memo is also in jeopardy now, being analyzed to determine if it “goes too far” by the Department of Justice Regulatory Reform Task Force.)
The Rohrabacher-Blumenauer provision, formerly known as the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment, which prevents the Department of Justice from interfering with state medical marijuana laws, was included in a broader legislative package passed by Congress earlier in the year to fund the government and provide disaster relief, but was then blocked from discussion before it was allowed as part of the spending bill.
Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), the other half of the bill’s co-sponsor, said that he had been promised time to promote his bill before a group of Republicans decided not to discuss any cannabis related bills until December 8.
So right now, that is where the amendment sits, as part of a continuing resolution that cannot be accepted until December 8 – which means that this key piece of federal legislation allowing this industry to continue is in limbo again.
“We have a multibillion dollar industry emerging, and that is a very good thing,” Rohrabacher said during the panel discussion. “It’s going to be like a circus now if we continue to prevent it from legally going in the right direction.”
Rohrabacher says he has a simple message to his Republican colleagues about legalization of cannabis. “I tell my Republican colleagues that the choice is not whether people are using it or smoking it or whatever they want to do with it,” he said. “That’s not the choice. The choice is that for our multibillion industry, are we going to put that into the public sector, where businessmen have to follow certain rules? Or they have to have labeling of their product, and there has to be the taxation of what you are making a profit on? Or we can just leave it all up to the drug cartels in Mexico. That’s the choice.”
He says that he believes that what people do in the privacy of their own home is “their own damn business,” and that he considers it an absolute waste of resources for police and others who are focusing on trying to prevent an adult from consuming a weed. “Big deal,” he said.
About legalization, he says, there are a significant number of Republicans willing to vote for that if it’s left up to the states, in part because states believe that they are able to have the right controls for setting up and enforcing rules. “Remember: Criminal justice was always supposed to be a state or local issue,” Rohrabacher said.
He pointed to his hat – labeled American Patriot. “There are those of us here that want to fight this kind of oppression,” he said. “Fight those people who want to keep government control, and to spend your tax money in order to prevent you from consuming something. And you are the adult, they are the tyrants. Keep that in mind.”
Rohrabacher said he’s been assured that, as the amendment process goes down the line, it will get a fair chance for discussion by December 8. “That was what I was promised. And if not, it’s time to lead the revolution. But I think it is going to happen.”
He says that over the next two weeks, they should see Democrat senators suggest or propose the amendment as a continuing resolution to Republicans. “Then they will just accept it and it will be law for another year,” he said. “Hopefully by next year we will have educated enough people that we won’t have this kind of ongoing struggle.”
But for now, aside from the specific amendment issue, not much will be happening on the federal level, according to another panelist, Michael Liszewski, principal of The Enact Group, a policy and lobbying group working for the Drug Policy Alliance and others. “In 12-24 months not much will happen,” he said. “The industry is in a defensive posture. We need to make sure that that amendment stays in. We need to shore up the Rohrabacher amendment and do something there. And then maybe we can see some interesting things happen.”
Rohrabacher hopes to get re-elected next year. When he does, he says, he will work to become committee chair of the science committee and help the legalization efforts through those channels. “It’s time that people are told the truth, told the scientific evidence that marijuana can be helpful,” Rohrabacher said. “People are suffering. You gotta touch their hearts. And yes, Republicans do have hearts.”