In the latest development in what now seems like a recurring nightmare, a powerful Republican-controlled congressional panel has blocked yet another marijuana amendment from being considered on the House floor.
The measure, sponsored by Congressman Jared Polis (D-CO), would have prevented the Department of Justice from spending money to prosecute people who are in compliance with state marijuana policies.
“Colorado has chosen to give money to classrooms, not cartels. Create jobs, not addicts. And boost our economy, not our prison population,” Polis said in explaining his amendment. “Regardless of the chair or any other member’s feelings on whether the federal government should legalize or not marijuana, let’s at least agree that we should not engage in federal enforcement actions in states that have chosen to go a different route.”
The congressman and cannabis law reform supporters want to attach the amendment to a must-pass spending bill to avoid a government shutdown this week.
But the Rules Committee voted eight to three along party lines to block the measure from being considered by the full House, with one Democrat, Congresswoman Louise Slaughter of New York, voting present.
Last month, when Congress was considering a previous stop-gap spending extension bill, the same committee blocked an identical amendment from advancing.
“Marijuana is an addictive product, and the merchants of addiction make it that way,” committee Chairman Pete Sessions (R-TX) said during the previous amendment’s consideration. “They make it for addiction. They make it to where our people, our young people, become addicted to marijuana and keep going.”
A similar proposal sponsored by Polis and Congressman Tom McClintock (R-CA) came just nine flipped votes short of passage on the House floor in 2015. Advocates believe that the amendment would pass if given another opportunity, because the number of states with legalization has doubled since the last attempt, and significantly more members of Congress now represent businesses and consumers who would be protected by the measure.
Under a related appropriations rider that is currently in effect, the Department of Justice is barred from spending money to interfere with state medical cannabis laws or people following them, but provides no protections for recreational marijuana businesses or consumers.
Last month, a bipartisan group of nearly 70 House members sent a letter to congressional leadership asking that the broader state cannabis protection language be included in funding legislation.
Over the course of the past two years, the Rules Committee has consistently blocked any measure having to do with cannabis policy from advancing. That includes amendments concerning banking access for marijuana businesses, tax fairness, military veterans’ use of medical cannabis and even industrial hemp.
Under the pending appropriations bill, which must be enacted by Thursday to avoid a government shutdown, federal funding levels and policy riders like the existing medical cannabis protection would be extended through March 23 while House and Senate leaders continue to work out a full Fiscal Year 2018 spending package.