In a federal first, the House has passed legislation to permanently protect state-sanctioned marijuana operations

Jun 25, 2019

The United States House of Representatives approved a bipartisan measure late last week which, if passed by the Senate and signed by President Trump, will protect state marijuana programs from federal interference. 

Under the proposed measures, the United States Department of Justice would be prohibited from using funds to interfere in cannabis operations within any U.S. states, U.S. territories, and also Washington, D.C.

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The language authorizes the use, distribution, possession, and cultivation of marijuana as long as it is allowed by the state in which it takes place. The provision was inserted as an amendment to the Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Appropriations bill. The bill does not differentiate between medical and recreational programs. In the past, some federal measures such as the Rohrabacher–Farr amendment only covered states with medical programs. This is the first time Congress has ever proposed legislation to protect states with recreational marijuana programs.

The latest attempt to prevent federal interference was sponsored by representatives Earl Blumenauer (D-Oregon), Tom McClintock (R-California), and Eleanor Holmes Norton. It is being called the Blumenauer-McClintock-Norton amendment. The measure was passed by a vote of 267 to 165.

“This is the most significant vote on marijuana reform policy that the House of Representatives has ever taken. Today’s action by Congress highlights the growing power of the marijuana law reform movement and the increasing awareness by political leaders that the policy of prohibition and criminalization has failed.” —Justin Strekal, NORML political director

One day earlier the House voted in favor of a similar amendment that protects Native American tribes that have legalized marijuana.

“The historic nature of this vote cannot be overstated. For the first time, a chamber of Congress has declared that the federal government should defer to state cannabis laws. The bipartisan nature of this vote is a strong signal that there would be majority support in the House for the STATES Act, which could be considered a more permanent version of this amendment. We hope the full House will be given the opportunity to vote on the STATES Act in coming months so that we can move closer to the end of federal cannabis prohibition.” — Neal Levine, CEO Cannabis Trade Federation 

Washington lawmakers have launched more marijuana policy reform actions in 2019 than in any year prior. Another bill which would bolster state marijuana programs, The STATES Act,  introduced in the Senate last year by Colorado Republican Senator Cory Gardner and Massachusetts Democrat Senator Elizabeth Warren, has bipartisan support in both the House and Senate. The measure seeks to treat marijuana regulation in much the same way as federal law treats alcohol. 

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The SAFE Banking Act, a bill proposed by Colorado Congressman Ed Perlmutter, has passed through committees in the House and might have a chance of being passed and passed on to the Senate. The act would legalize banking and financial services for marijuana businesses. However, Republican support for this bill and the STATES Act might be too weak to push either measure through the Republican-controlled Senate. 

Now that it has passed through the House, The Blumenauer-McClintock-Norton amendment will likely be debated by the Senate Appropriations Committee.

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