A bipartisan coalition of dozens of congressional lawmakers on Thursday sent a letter urging leaders of a key committee to include provisions protecting all state, territory and tribal marijuana programs from federal interference in upcoming annual spending legislation when it is introduced.
The sign-on letter—led by Congressional Cannabis Caucus co-chairs Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Barbara Lee (D-CA), along with Reps. Tom McClintock (R-CA) and Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC)—notes the growing number of states that have legalized cannabis for medical or recreational purposes and argues that the Department of Justice should be barred from enforcing prohibition against citizens who comply with those local policies.
“Most of these [legalization] laws were decided by ballot initiatives,” the lawmakers said. “We believe that the federal government should not interfere with these programs and the will of the citizens of these states.”
To that end, the group is asking leadership in a powerful House Appropriations subcommittee to include a rider in the base bill of forthcoming spending legislation that would prevent the Justice Department from using its funds to intervene in legal, adult-use marijuana markets. They also said that an existing amendment to protect medical cannabis states should be renewed, as it has annually since 2014.
The House has approved spending bills with the broader language for the past two years, but because they weren’t attached to the base bill, they had to be introduced and voted on as amendments. That’s what the lawmakers are asking to avoid this round by including the protections from the start when the measure is first introduced.
To date, the Senate has not followed suit in approving the broad rider, and the adult-use protections have not made it into final legislation that has been signed into law.
When it comes to the narrower medical cannabis-focused protections, those have been attached to the base bill in both chambers—a sign of the non-controversial nature of the policy at this point.
Unlike the language of past years’ amendments, the provisions the House legislators are requesting this time do not explicitly list the states and territories with medical or recreational cannabis laws on the books that would benefit from the protection.
Instead, here’s the simpler language the legislators want to see incorporated into the appropriations legislation:
“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.”
“None of the funds made available in this Act to the Department of Justice may be used to enforce federal prohibitions involving the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of marijuana for medical purposes that are permitted by the laws of the state, the District of Columbia, or U.S. territory where the act was committed, or to prevent states, the District of Columbia, or U.S. territories from implementing their own laws that permit the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of marijuana for medical purposes.”
The letter also urges appropriators to include a new section specifying that the Justice Department can’t use its funds to prevent Indian tribes from enacting or implementing marijuana legalization. The House has approved tribal-focused amendments for the past two years, though those too did not make it into law due to the Senate winning out in bicameral negotiations.
“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.”
“We appreciate the difficult task before you and appreciate your consideration of our request,” the lawmakers wrote in the new letter.
Among the 44 total signatories are Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrod Nadler (D-NY) and Small Business Committee Chairwoman Nydia Velazquez (D-NY), along with Reps. Jamaal Bowman (D-NY), Ilhan Oman (D-MN), Ken Buck (R-CO), Matt Gaetz (R-FL), Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), Steve Cohen (D-TN), Ro Kanna (D-CA) and Dina Titus (D-NV), in addition to dozens of others.
If the requested language is adopted, it stands to reason that it will make it through the House as part of the large-scale funding legislation. But what makes 2021 different is that Democrats have a new majority in the Senate, meaning the more comprehensive provision covering states with recreational laws has a greater chance of being incorporated into the final package that’s delivered to the president.
Under GOP control, only the medical cannabis protections have been attached to the final appropriations legislation.
But in an interview with Marijuana Moment last week, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) indicated that he’s not interested in having his chamber pursue the temporary rider that needs to be renewed annually. He wants a permanent solution and will soon release a bill to end federal cannabis prohibition altogether.
“Our first goal is not to settle for just partial measures, even though that, obviously if we went to legalization, that would sort of be part of it,” he said. “We’re first going to try to get as large a piece of legislation as we can.”
That proposal may be pursued through a process known as budget reconciliation, adding it to a larger package in order to avoid having to overcome a filibuster that requires 60 votes. Even so, getting all Democrats on board with legalization is already proving challenging, as some members have signaled that they’re not in favor of the reform and other remain on the fence.
On the House side, Nadler said recently that he plans to reintroduced his legalization bill, the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, which cleared the chamber last year but did not advance in the Senate under GOP control.
Read the congressional letter on protecting all state, territory and tribal marijuana programs from federal interference below:
Image element courtesy of Tim Evanson.