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Bipartisan Lawmakers Request Broad Marijuana Protections For States And Territories In Spending Legislation

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A bipartisan group of congressional lawmakers is asking House leaders to include provisions broadly protecting states and territories that have legalized marijuana from facing federal interference in final spending legislation for Fiscal Year 2022.

In a letter to House Appropriations Committee leadership that was sent on Wednesday, lawmakers insisted that language should be added to prevent the use of Justice Department funds “to prosecute those who are in compliance with their state-legal or tribal-legal adult-use marijuana laws.”

Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Tom McClintock (R-CA), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) and Barbara Lee (D-CA) signed the letter. Earlier this year, the group circulated a previous sign-on letter to build support for the cannabis amendments.

“Most of [the state-level legalization laws in effect] were decided by the voters directly through ballot initiatives,” the new letter states. “We believe that the federal government should not interfere with these programs and the will of the voters of these states.”

Accordingly, they are asking that the following language be included in a final appropriations package: 

“None of the funds made available by this Act to the Department of Justice may be used, with respect to any of the States, the District of Columbia, or U.S. territories to prevent any of them from implementing their own laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of marijuana.”

Further, “as states increasingly establish state-legal marijuana programs, tribes continue to face uncertainty with respect to federal guidance on marijuana,” the lawmakers wrote. “The federal government should provide clarity and respect the sovereignty and will of Indian tribes should they choose to enact marijuana laws in the same way that most states have.”

To that end, the group is asking appropriations leaders to attach this clarifying language to the final package as well: 

“None of the funds made available by this Act to the Department of Justice may be used to prevent any Indian tribe (as such term is defined in section 4 of the Indian Self Determination and Education Assistance Act (25 U.S.C. 5304)) from enacting or implementing tribal laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of marijuana.”

Amendments with those provisions were made in order for floor votes by the House Rules Committee in July for the Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies (CJS) funding package, but that spending legislation has yet to be taken up on the floor asa result of disputes on other, unrelated law enforcement provisions.

The cannabis language has been proposed in past sessions as well, passing the House last year and in 2019. But it was not attached to final appropriations legislation sent to the president’s desk under GOP control of the Senate. Now that Democrats have a slim majority in that chamber, advocates are optimistic that it could finally be enacted.

“Given the successful track record of passing the amendment in a bipartisan fashion, it would be wholly appropriate and reasonable for the House to include the effort in its final appropriations package,” Justin Strekal, political director of NORML, told Marijuana Moment. “Now is the time to stop playing politics and enact this measure to codify protections for state-legal cannabis programs to grow and thrive.”

As it stands, a narrower spending bill rider has renewed each year since 2014 that offers the protection to states with medical cannabis programs. The language that the four lawmakers are asking for with their new letter would expand that protection at a time when more and more states are opting to legalize marijuana for adult use.

In July, the House approved a package of spending legislation that contains measures to provide protections for banks that work with state-legal cannabis businesses and allow the legalization of marijuana sales in Washington, D.C., among many other drug policy provisions.

The appropriations legislation and attached reports also direct federal government agencies to reconsider policies that fire employees for using cannabis in compliance with state law, criticize restrictive hemp regulations, encourage CBD to be allowed in foods and urge expanded research on marijuana and other substances.

Separately, the House in September approved a marijuana banking reform amendment as part of large-scale defense spending legislation. Two dozen governors sent a letter to congressional leaders on Tuesday asking that the proposal be enacted through that vehicle, but it’s yet to be seen whether the Senate will follow suit.

Read the new letter to congressional appropriators on marijuana protections below: 

Click to access 2021-11-10-letter-supporting-doj-state-legal-cannabis-rider-in-eoy-approps-final.pdf

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Photo courtesy of WeedPornDaily.

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Kyle Jaeger is Marijuana Moment's Sacramento-based senior editor. His work has also appeared in High Times, VICE and attn.

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