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Senate Committee Keeps Medical Marijuana Protections In Place

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Protections for state medical marijuana laws and people complying with them have survived an attempt to gut the provisions in a key Senate committee.

Earlier this week, for the first time ever, the Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies included the medical marijuana protections in the initial version of the legislation as introduced by Republican leaders.

But on Thursday, Sen. James Lankford (R-OK), filed an amendment before the full Appropriations Committee that would have prevented the rider from taking effect until the government removes cannabis from Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act.

“States are running over the top and this issue continues to grow,” said the anti-legalization senator, who recently appeared in a TV ad opposing the medical cannabis ballot measure that voters in his state will consider during this month’s primary election. “As opioids are increasing, and we are leaning into fighting against opioids, we sending a double standard message to say less opioids, but more marijuana.”

But Lankford decided not to force a vote on his amendment.

“I understand I do not have the votes, and so I will withdraw it,” he said.

The medical marijuana measure has been federal law since 2014, but in past years its continuance has required specific votes in committee or on the House floor. The subcommittee’s move to include the provision in introduced base legislation signals cannabis reform’s maturation as a political issue.

The House Appropriations Committee adopted the medical marijuana protections in a voice vote last month. Since the language is now in both chambers’ Justice Department funding legislation, it is all but certain to end up in the final Fiscal Year 2019 appropriations bill sent to President Trump later this year.

If so, people complying with state medical cannabis laws would be safe from federal harassment through at least September 2019.

In other marijuana news from the Thursday Senate markup, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) offered an amendment to provide broader protections to states that allow recreational marijuana and not just medical cannabis.

“Let’s leave this to the states. Let’s restore the Cole Memo,” he said, referring to Obama-era guidance protecting state marijuana laws that was rescinded earlier this year by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions. “Let’s not sustain this conflict.”

But out of apparent uncertainty about the result of a vote on protecting non-medical marijuana laws, the senator also withdrew his amendment.

Last week, the Senate appropriations panel approved an amendment to allow military veterans to receive medical cannabis recommendations through their U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs doctors.

Senators Approve Medical Marijuana For Military Veterans

On Wednesday, the House Appropriations Committee rejected an amendment to provide protections to banks that work with the marijuana industry.

Marijuana Moment supporters on Patreon can see the text of both marijuana amendments considered by the Senate Appropriations Committee below:

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Photo courtesy of Max Pixel.

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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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