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Senate Committee Includes State Medical Marijuana Protections In Spending Bill

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A key Senate panel approved a measure on Tuesday to continue a current policy that blocks the Department of Justice from interfering with state medical marijuana laws.

The move by the Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies, if later affirmed by the full body and signed into law by President Trump, would mean that approved medical cannabis patients, growers and dispensaries operating in accordance with state policies would be generally safe from federal prosecution for at least another year.

The medical marijuana protection rider was first enacted in 2014 and has been extended for each subsequent fiscal year, though it does not cover broader state laws allowing cannabis sales to adults for non-medical purposes.

The panel’s Democratic minority confirmed the inclusion of the medically focused measure in a summary of the Fiscal Year 2020 Justice Department spending bill, the full text of which has not yet been made available.

“This bill again contains language preventing the Justice Department from interfering with states that have medical marijuana laws, ensuring that the prescribing and dispensing of medical marijuana in those states is both legal and regulated,” the Democrats wrote. “Patients and doctors in states that have approved medical marijuana need to know that they are safe from arrest and prosecution by the federal government.”

(The summary somewhat misstates the actual impact of the provision, which does not formally make medical marijuana “legal and regulated” but simply restricts the ability of federal law enforcement agencies to apply the ongoing national prohibition against people and businesses acting in compliance with state policies.)

This is the second year in a row that the medical cannabis rider has been included in the Senate’s base legislation as introduced, whereas in prior years it had to be added by a proactive vote of the full Senate Appropriations Committee.

In June, the House approved an amendment to expand the protections to cover all state marijuana laws, including those allowing recreational use and sales.

It is unknown if senators will consider a similar amendment on Thursday when the full Appropriations Committee takes up the Justice Department spending bill.

If the Senate does not join the House in including broader state marijuana protections in its version of the funding legislation, it will be up to a conference committee of members from both chambers to decide which version makes it to the president’s desk in a final spending package.

Stay tuned for deeper Marijuana Moment analysis—including quotes from interviews with several senators—on the prospects of including a broad state cannabis protection measure in Senate legislation.

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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 Marijuana.com and MassRoots, and handled media relations and campaigns for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition and Students for Sensible Drug Policy.

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