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Congress Could Vote On Marijuana Amendment Protecting All State Legalization Laws Soon



The House of Representatives could vote within the next week or so on amendment to protect all state marijuana legalization laws from federal interference.

Lawmakers filed the measure on Wednesday for possible attachment to a wide-ranging bill to fund several federal departments for Fiscal year 2021. Meanwhile, another representative is pushing two separate amendments that would strip federal money from states that have legalized cannabis, and other drug policy proposals are also on the table.

That spending legislation in its current form already includes provisions to shield state medical cannabis laws from Justice Department intervention, allow banks to service legal marijuana businesses without fear of Treasury Department punishment and protect universities from losing funding for studying cannabis. It also notably excludes language to continue a longstanding policy that has blocked Washington, D.C. from spending its own money to legalize cannabis sales.

Now, reform supporters want to add in an expansion to the current medical cannabis protection rider, which was first enacted in 2014 and has continually been renewed by Congress on an annual basis, so that it would cover recreational marijuana laws as well.

The state protection amendment, filed by Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Tom McClintock (R-CA), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) and Barbara Lee (D-CA), reads as follows:

“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, Indiana, 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, or with respect to the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, Guam, Puerto Rico, or the United States Virgin Islands, to prevent any of them from implementing their own laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of marijuana.”

Blumenauer, along with Rep. Deb Haaland (D-NM), filed a separate measure aimed at shielding cannabis policies enacted by Indian tribes from federal harassment.

“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.”

The House Rules Committee will decide which submitted amendments will be allowed votes on the floor, likely next week.

“It is critical that the full House be provided the opportunity to cast a vote on the amendment, not only because it is a sensible effort but also because it provides an opportunity to demonstrate to House leadership that comprehensive legislation is ready for prime time,” NORML Political Director Just Strekal told Marijuana Moment. “After Blumenauer-McClintock-Norton-Lee passes again, the next logical step is a vote on a cannabis reform bill in 2020.”

Last year, the House voted 267-165 to approve an amendment to prevent the Justice Department from interfering with all state and territory marijuana laws. The chamber also passed a measure protecting Indian tribes’ cannabis policies via a voice vote on the same day. The Senate did not follow suit, however, and the provisions did not make it into final Fiscal Year 2020 spending legislation signed by the president.

Opponents of legalization are using this year’s appropriations process to highlight their concerns about the health and safety impacts of reform.

Rep. Debbie Lesko (R-AZ) filed an amendment to block states from getting certain federal monies if they allow the sales of “kid-friendly” THC-infused products.

“SEC. ll. None of the funds made available by this Act may be provided to a State in which it is lawful to sellโ€”
(1) marijuana; and
(2) tetrahydrocannabinol in candy, soda, chocolate, ice cream, or other kid-friendly food or beverage.”

An earlier version seemed to contain a drafting error using “or” instead of “and” between its two clauses and thus would have stripped funding from any state where marijuana sales are legal at all, not just those allowing certain edible products.

A separate Lesko amendmentย would restrict federal funds from being used “in any State that has in effect a law that authorizes the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of marijuana, unless such State offers education campaigns on marijuana impaired driving.”

Rep. Doug LaMalfa (D-CA) filed another anti-reform amendment aimed at undermining broader harm reduction drug policies, which would stipulate that funds cannot “be used to carry out or support a program that distributes a hypodermic needle or syringe to an individual for the use of an illegal drug.”

Although Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) introduced an amendment to the FY2020 funding bill last year aimed at removing barriers to research on psychedelics, her office told Marijuana Moment this week that she won’t be filing it again this year. It was defeated on the House floor in 2019 by a vote of 91-31.

Reports attached to the current spending bills by the House Appropriations Committee include provisions directing federal agencies to reconsider the practice of firing workers for marijuana and created a pathway for legal marketing of CBD products.

This story was updated to include information about additional amendments that have been filed.

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Image element courtesy of Tim Evanson.

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Tom Angell is the editor of Marijuana Moment. A 20-year veteran in the cannabis law reform movement, he covers the policy and politics of marijuana. Separately, he founded the nonprofit Marijuana Majority. Previously he reported for and MassRoots, and handled media relations and campaigns for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition and Students for Sensible Drug Policy.


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