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Congress Considers Opposing Amendments To Protect Legal Marijuana States And Block Biden From Rescheduling Cannabis



A pair of diametrically opposed amendments have been filed to a key bill covering funding for the Department of Justice: one bipartisan measure to protect all state marijuana programs from federal intervention and another led by a longtime GOP prohibitionist to block the Biden administration from rescheduling cannabis.

Additionally, there are proposals on the table to restrict federal agencies from testing job applicants for marijuana and protect states that legalize the therapeutic use of psilocybin.

As the House gets back to work on fiscal year 2024 appropriations legislation, the proposed amendments to the bill covering Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies (CJS) will now be taken into consideration by the Republican-controlled House Rules Committee, which will determine whether they can be taken up on the floor.

The state cannabis protection amendment is being sponsored by Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Tom McClintock (R-CA), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), Barbara Lee (D-CA). Earlier versions of the measure have been been approved on the House floor in years past but have yet to be enacted into law.

The measure would bar the Justice Department from using any federal funds to “prevent any State, the District of Columbia, or any territory of the United States from implementing any law of that jurisdiction that authorizes the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of marijuana.” It would also extend those protections to Indian tribes, according to text of the proposal that was shared by Marijuana Moment but is not yet posted on the Rules Committee site.

The CJS bill already includes a more limited rider that’s been annually renewed each year since 2014, preventing federal funds from being used to interfere in the implementation of state and territory medical cannabis programs. That rider lists the specific covered jurisdictions—which has also historically been the format used for the amendment protecting all state cannabis laws—but this latest version of the broader measure is more general and does not include a specific list of protected jurisdictions.

The reason it was intentionally drafted to be less prescriptive is to account for potential state policy changes while Congress completes its appropriations work, a Blumenauer staffer told Marijuana Moment. For example, Ohio voters will be deciding on a marijuana legalization initiative at the ballot on Tuesday.

On the other side of the spectrum, there’s an amendment from Rep. Pete Session (R-TX), a vociferously anti-marijuana congressman who himself blocked numerous cannabis reform measures from reaching the floor during his time as the Rules Committee chairman until he lost reelection in 2018. He returned to the House after winning election in a different district in 2020.

Sessions’s amendment would prevent federal funds from being used to “deschedule, reschedule, or reclassify marihuana” under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA).

If made in order for a floor vote and enacted, the proposal could undermine an ongoing administrative review into marijuana scheduling that was directed by President Joe Biden last year. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has recommended that the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) move cannabis from Schedule I to Schedule III under the CSA, and the law enforcement agency that would be impacted by the Sessions amendment is now actively carrying out its own review before making a final determination.

Sessions recently led a letter urging DEA to “reject” the top federal health agency’s recommendation to reschedule marijuana and instead keep it in the most restrictive category under the CSA.

Meanwhile, there are two other drug policy reform measures that the Rules Committee will consider as part of the CJS legislation. One led by Rep. Robert Garcia (D-CA) would block funding to drug test federal job applicants for marijuana. The congressman has filed numerous versions of the reform to various spending bills this year, so far without avail.

In an interview with Marijuana Moment last week, Garcia said he believes federal legalization is long overdue, and in the meantime he’s using his past experience reforming city-level workplace cannabis policy as mayor of Long Beach to inform his congressional efforts.

The congressman is also behind another CJS amendment to protect jurisdictions that legalize psilocybin for therapeutic use that was filed alongside Blumenauer, a founding member of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus who recently announced he won’t be seeking reelection next year.

The measure represents a dialed-back version of standalone legislation he’s sponsoring with Blumenauer that would prohibit the use of federal funds to interfere in state and local laws legalizing the psychedelic for any purpose, rather than just focusing on therapeutic use.

Because the psychedelics appropriations measure concerns medical psilocybin states, its practical impact if enacted may be limited in the short-term given that no states have explicitly authorized it as a therapeutic in the way they have for marijuana, with qualifying conditions and doctor recommendations, for example.

Marijuana Moment is tracking more than 1,000 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.

Learn more about our marijuana bill tracker and become a supporter on Patreon to get access.

While the measure’s prospects in the GOP-controlled Rules Committee are uncertain, the panel has allowed separate, GOP-led psychedelics measures to receive floor consideration as part of another appropriations bill that ultimately passed the full House.

One of those House-passed amendments would allow VA doctors to issue medical cannabis recommendations to veterans, and the other would encourage research into the therapeutic potential of psychedelics like psilocybin and MDMA.

The Senate approved a bill last week that also includes a similar provision to allow VA to issue medical marijuana recommendations to veterans living in legal states—setting the stage for conference with the House.

A pair of psychedelics research measures, as well as an amendment on creating federal labeling requirements related to marijuana interactions with prescription drugs, were also approved by the House in September as part of a Department of Defense (DOD) spending bill.

Over in the Senate, lawmakers passed defense legislation in July that contains provisions to bar intelligence agencies like the CIA and NSA from denying security clearances to applicants solely due to their past marijuana use. But other cannabis proposals, such as one from Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) to allowed medical marijuana use by veterans, did not advance as part of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

More than a dozen marijuana and psychedelics amendments to the House version of the NDAA were blocked by the Rules Committee in July. That includes a measure introduced by Garcia that would have prevented security clearance denials for federal workers over prior cannabis use.

However, in September the House Oversight and Accountability Committee passed a standalone bipartisan bill that would prevent the denial of federal employment or security clearances based on a candidate’s past marijuana use.

Read the text of the bipartisan amendment to protect all legal marijuana states below: 

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Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.

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