A bipartisan group of members of the U.S. House sent a letter to congressional leaders on Friday asking that they include protections for state marijuana laws in federal funding legislation that is currently being negotiated.
“[W]e are concerned with several attempts to apply federal law upon commerce related to cannabis that is conducted entirely within the boundaries of states that have legalized such commerce,” the group of 69 lawmakers, led by Reps. Tom McClintock (R-CA) and Jared Polis (D-CO), wrote in the letter.
“While the federal government is legitimately empowered to regulate interstate commerce, the measures adopted by states such as California, Oregon and Colorado are aimed solely at intrastate commerce and as such should not be interfered with,” they wrote. “Indeed, this is exactly the mechanism Louis Brandeis referred to when he wrote of the states as laboratories for innovation and experimentation.”
Under a current appropriations rider, the Department of Justice is barred from spending money to interfere with state medical cannabis laws or people following them. But advocates are concerned that in the wake of U.S Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s rescission this month of an Obama-era memo that generally allowed states to implement their own laws without federal interference, recreational cannabis businesses that operate in accordance with local policy are now at risk.
Pushing to get my amendment attached to the gov’t funding bill to stop @TheJusticeDept from prosecuting anyone for following state marijuana laws. Nearly 70 members – Rs and Ds – agree w/ me, & I am hopeful we can get it done before Jan. 19. #bipartisan https://t.co/3vzc4dWYAm
— Rep. Jared Polis (@RepJaredPolis) January 12, 2018
The group of House Republicans and Democrats wants the existing rider’s language to be expanded in scope to prohibit the Justice Department from going after people in compliance with recreational legalization laws in eight states and Washington, D.C.
“While our proposed funding language does nothing to diminish the authority of the federal government to interdict or forbid the interstate transport of marijuana, it respects the Constitutional authority for states to regulate commerce within their own borders,” they wrote.
The language they want included reads:
“None of the funds made available by this act to the Department of Justice may be used, with respect to any of the States of Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming, to prevent any of them from implementing their own laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of marijuana on non-Federal lands within their respective jurisdictions.”
A similar amendment came just nine flipped votes of passing the House in 2015. But while the number of states with legalization has doubled since then, congressional leaders have blocked further floor votes on the measure.
In November, a similar group of House lawmakers sent a letter to leadership requesting that the medical cannabis-specific protections be extended.
Current funding for the federal government — along with the existing medical cannabis rider — is set to expire on January 19. Advocates believe that Congress is likely to enact another short-term extension while negotiations on a final Fiscal year 2018 spending package are finalized.
In the meantime, supportive lawmakers are introducing and cosponsoring a number of standalone marijuana reform bills.