Congressional Lawmakers Push Marijuana Protections For All States While GOP Member Seeks To End Medical Cannabis Rider
An amendment to protect all state and tribal marijuana programs from federal interference now has 15 cosponsors after its bipartisan proponents circulated a letter to build support this week. But a Republican opponent of reform is pushing a dueling proposal to end a more modest, longstanding rider that’s provided protections for medical cannabis states alone.
The pro-reform amendment—which could receive a vote on the House floor next week—is being led by Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Tom McClintock (R-CA), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) and Barbara Lee (D-CA). The hope is to attach the proposal to 2022 fiscal year spending legislation for the Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies (CJS).
Meanwhile, Rep. Doug LaMalfa (R-CA) is taking the unusual step of filing a competing measure that would cease federal protections for states with medical cannabis legalization on the books—including his own—that have been in place and renewed annually on a bipartisan basis since 2014.
Given Democratic control of Congress and the increasingly cross-party nature of support for marijuana reform overall, advocates aren’t necessarily concerned about LaMalfa’s amendment. But while the GOP congressman has earned a reputation as a staunch reform opponent, going so far as to recently bulldoze illicit cannabis grow sites in California alongside local police, his proposal to end protections for the state’s decades-old medical cannabis program has raised eyebrows.
On the other end, pro-reform lawmakers explained in a Dear Colleague letter this week that the appropriations revision they’re proposing would add “language preventing the Department of Justice from using any funds appropriated by Congress to enforce federal laws regarding activities that are legal under state, territorial, or tribal law with regard to marijuana, regardless of whether the marijuana laws are recreational or medicinal.”
This 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 the chamber, advocates are optimistic that it could finally be enacted.
In addition to the four main sponsors of the amendment, it’s now been cosponsored by Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) and Reps. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), David Joyce (R-OH), Diana DeGette (D-CO), Dina Titus (D-NV), Donald Beyer (D-VA), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), Mike Thompson (D-CA), Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), Ed Perlmutter (D-CO) and Don Young (R-AK)
As it stands, the spending bill rider that LaMalfa is attempting to strike offers the protection only to states with medical cannabis programs. This new broader amendment from reform supporters would expand that protection at a time when more and more states are opting to legalize marijuana for adult use. Four states—Connecticut, New Mexico, New York and Virginia—legalized for recreational purposes this year alone.
Here’s the text of the proposed amendment:
1 SEC _. 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, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, 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.
1 SEC __. 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 first time the House passed the more sweeping protections to cover state recreational marijuana laws was in 2019, and members approved it along largely bipartisan lines.
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LaMalfa also filed a second amendment to the CJS bill that’s aimed at “including marijuana grow sites in the eligible category for [Drug Enforcement Administration] reimbursement of state, units of local government, or tribal governments for expenses incurred to clean-up and safely dispose of substances which may present a danger to public health or the environment found at illegal marijuana grow sites.”
An additional LaMalfa amendment to a separate funding bill for the State Department is meant to “express the intent to direct the Department of State to issue a report on the connections between international criminal organizations and illegal marijuana grows within the United States.”
On the CJS bill, Rep. Jay Obernolte (R-CA) also filed an amendment intended to “support efforts to eliminate illegal marijuana grows in South Eastern California.”
The appropriations process this session has seen numerous drug policy reform provisions included in bill text and attached reports—including protecting banks that work with marijuana businesses, encouraging government agencies to reconsider policies that fire employees for use and explore research into the medical value of psychedelics and stopping immigrants from being deported for cannabis, among other issues.
Separately, the full House of Representatives could vote next week on amendments to large-scale minibus appropriations legislation that would make it so marijuana possession or consumption could not be used at the sole basis for denying people access to public housing.
For the CJS appropriations bill where the new marijuana state protection language could be attached, amendments were due to be submitted by Friday afternoon. The House Rules Committee is set to make a rule next week, after which point the legislation and any amendments that are deemed in order will move to the floor for votes.
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Photo courtesy of Brian Shamblen.