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Historic Marijuana Measures Clear First Major Congressional Hurdles As Opposition Wanes



With the annual appropriations process wrapping up in the House, far-reaching marijuana measures are officially clearing their first major hurdles—and longtime opponents are largely standing out of the way instead of mounting what would likely be futile efforts to block reform.

A bill containing a historic amendment to protect cannabis programs in all states, U.S. territories and Washington, D.C. was given final approval in the chamber on Tuesday. And separate legislation that includes a provision safeguarding banks that service marijuana businesses also cleared the House on Wednesday.

The state protections measure was handily approved as an amendment in a 267-165 vote last week during consideration of a bill to fund the Department of Justice and other federal agencies. That’s even more “yes” votes than a narrower amendment protecting only medical cannabis states received in 2015.

The marijuana banking measure made it into the base text of separate large-scale spending legislation covering the Treasury Department for the first time this year and, notably, its attachment to the bill was accepted largely without a fight, signaling that opposition to cannabis reform is waning in Congress.

Rep. Chris Stewart (R-UT) initially filed an amendment during a House Appropriations Committee markup that would have limited the banking protections to medical cannabis businesses only, but sensing its unpopularity after a lopsided debate in the panel, he withdrew it instead of forcing a vote.

Stewart’s withdrawn amendment represents the lone legislative effort to disrupt the cannabis financial services measure throughout the appropriations process this session. No other lawmaker even filed an amendment on the issue for floor consideration this week.

Additionally, a longstanding rider blocking Washington, D.C. from using its own local tax dollars to implement a legal marijuana sales program—which Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD) introduced and successfully passed in prior years—was not included in appropriations legislation as introduced by Democratic leaders this time. And while some expected Harris to offer an amendment to reinsert the language, he ultimately declined to do so—both in committee and on the floor.

The anti-cannabis congressman told reporter Matt Laslo that the decision was because “we’re not in charge anymore,” presumably referring to his party, which lost control of the House in last year’s midterm elections.

Instead, the congressman focussed on introducing measures to prohibit the decriminalization of sex work in D.C. and create regulatory exceptions for private schools in the jurisdiction, both of which were rejected during an Appropriations Committee hearing.

“House Republicans are slowly realizing that messing with D.C.’s marijuana legalization is a losing proposition. Their Senate counterparts should be taking note,” Queen Adesuyi, policy coordinator with the Drug Policy Alliance’s Office of National Affairs, told Marijuana Moment.

Justin Strekal, political director of NORML, said that “prohibitionists have always been wrong and immoral, but now we can add ‘losers’ to their list of descriptors in the context of the House of Representatives.”

The House-passed Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies spending legislation also now includes a separate rider protecting tribal marijuana laws from federal interference. The language, which was introduced for the first time ever this year, was adopted in a voice vote on the floor without opposition.

And the bill includes an additional provision directing the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to develop regulations providing for the lawful marketing of CBD in the food supply. It didn’t even receive debate on the floor, easily passing as part of an en bloc voice vote.

Though the House developments are a strong sign that the congressional winds are shifting in favor of marijuana reform, it still remains to be seen how the Senate will approach the appropriations amendments when that chamber takes up its versions of the funding bills over the next several weeks.

Analysis: Breaking Down Congress’s Vote To Protect Legal Marijuana States From Federal Enforcement

Image element courtesy of Tim Evanson

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


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