After a government shutdown lasting only a few hours, Congress passed yet another temporary spending bill on Friday that will keep medical marijuana patients and providers safe for a little while longer. The bill includes the amendments that has been part of the spending budget since 2014, which prevents the Department of Justice from spending resources to prosecute people or businesses that are in compliance with state laws. This deal is set to expire on March 23.
Congress will need to pass another spending bill before then in order to continue keeping state medical marijuana programs safe. In the event of a government shutdown, there will be nothing to stop federal prosecutors from targeting medical marijuana programs around the country.
However, supportive lawmakers are using the temporary reprieves to push for even more comprehensive protections, including amendments that would extend protections to businesses in the adult-use market.
On Thursday, Congress reached a deal that would continue current government spending for another two weeks while they work toward reaching a final deal on next year's spending budget. This means that the amendment to the current budget, which prevents the Department of Justice from interfering in state medical marijuana programs, will remain in place for now.
In September, the amendment that would continue these protections for patients and providers who are in compliance with state law were included in the Senate version of the budget, but the House Rules Committee prevented the House from voting on it. Now, the House and Senate Appropriations Committees must decide if they will include this language.
Marijuana policy advocates were increasingly concerned at the end of this week. If the amendment had not been included in the budget, or if this deal had not been reached and the government shut down, it would have allowed Jeff Sessions to direct the Department of Justice to begin targeting state-legal medical marijuana programs for the first time since 2014. Sessions has been trying to get rid of these protections for months, and he sent a letter to Congress in May urging them to strip the amendment from the spending bill.
The new deadline is now December 22. Please contact your members of Congress, and urge them to protect state medical marijuana programs.
The U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday approved an amendment to the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations bill that is intended to ease access to medical marijuana for veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, serious injuries, and other debilitating conditions.
The amendment, authored by Sens. Steve Daines (R-MT) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR), would prohibit the spending of funds on enforcement of a Veterans Health Administration directive that prohibits VA physicians from recommending medical marijuana to their patients, even in states that have made it legal.
If enacted, VA physicians would no longer face penalties for discussing medical marijuana with their patients or completing the paperwork patients must submit in order to participate in state medical marijuana programs. Currently, veterans in states with medical marijuana laws must find a doctor outside of the VA system to discuss medical marijuana as a treatment option and provide the requisite documentation.
On Friday, the District of Columbia Superior Court upheld the Local Budget Autonomy Act of 2012, which 82% of D.C. voters approved in spring of 2013. Then, on Tuesday, D.C.’s Attorney General and Chief Financial Officer said they would not appeal.
Now, instead of having to wait for Congress to appropriate funds to D.C., the budget will simply be reviewed in the same way as every other law passed by the D.C. Council. So, the appropriations rider that has blocked the council from making any improvements to D.C.’s marijuana policies will expire on September 30, 2016. This means that the council can move forward to determine how to tax and regulate marijuana and pass a law to do so this fall.
While Congress could still block a tax and regulate bill or a D.C. budget that includes funds for the regulation of marijuana sales, it would have to do so by passing a joint resolution in both houses that would be subject to presidential veto. Thanks to congressional gridlock and President Obama’s support for D.C. choosing its own marijuana policy, this would be much more difficult than simply adding a rider to a lengthy appropriations bill funding the federal government.
On Friday, the Vermont Senate Finance Committee voted 6-1 to approve S. 241, a bill that would end marijuana prohibition for adults and create a regulated and taxed system for marijuana production and sale. Before passing the bill, the Finance Committee adopted a 25% tax rate that would be applied to retail sales. (This is roughly on par with the tax rates in Oregon and Colorado, and it is significantly less than the rate in Washington state).
This bill is still a work in progress. We will continue to update you on new developments as it advances through the committee process.
If you are a Vermont resident, it’s very important that your senators and representatives hear from you today. Please send them an email urging them to support S. 241. If you are able to take a few minutes to personalize your email, that may increase its impact on legislators.
S. 241 will be considered by the Senate Appropriations Committee next. A vote by the full Senate is expected within the next couple weeks.
Nearly Three-Quarters of Democrats Break with Administration Policy, Vote to Prevent Federal Agencies from Targeting Individuals in Compliance with State Medical Marijuana Laws
Democrats in the House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly to approve an amendment to the FY 2013 Commerce, Justice, State Appropriations bill late Tuesday that would effectively end the ability of federal agencies to enforce federal marijuana laws against individuals who are in compliance with state medical marijuana laws. The amendment stated that federal agencies may not use any funds to target individuals in states with medical marijuana laws, as long as those people are following the laws of their respective states. This amendment, which was debated five times last decade, was reintroduced after an increase in federal actions against state-legal medical marijuana providers throughout the country over the last year.
The amendment was supported by Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-California), Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-New York), Rep. Sam Farr (D-California), and Rep. Tom McClintock (R-California). It was defeated in the House by a vote of 163-262 at the close of voting. Of those in favor, 134 were Democrats and 28 were Republicans, with 72% of Democrats backing the measure. The strong support among Democrats is notable in light of recent criticism of the Obama administration’s crackdown on medical marijuana providers despite campaign promises that he would not use federal resources to undermine state medical marijuana laws.
“It is encouraging to see so many members sending a clear message to the Obama administration,” said Steve Fox, director of government relations for the Marijuana Policy Project. “These 163 members are tired of seeing federal resources dedicated to undermining state medical marijuana laws. They understand, especially members from medical marijuana states, that when the Obama administration forces the closure of medical marijuana dispensaries, they are driving patients back to the streets to acquire their medicine. States are doing the right thing by ensuring that patients have safe access to medical marijuana. It is only a matter of time before every member of Congress accepts this truth.”
Currently, 16 states and the District of Columbia allow seriously ill patients to use medical marijuana with a recommendation from their doctor. Connecticut is poised to become the 17th state to pass a medical marijuana law. Another ten states are considering bills to make marijuana legal at this time.
The amendment performed about as well this time around as it did the last time it was considered in 2007. While that may not seem like progress, it is actually quite a step forward. In the most recent vote, we saw an increase in the percentage of both Democrats and Republicans that supported this policy change. The reason that the overall support for the amendment remained relatively unchanged is that support among Republicans is still fairly low, and many more of them are now in office than in 2007.
An amendment to the 2013 Commerce, Justice, State Appropriations bill in the U.S. House that would effectively end federal interference in medical marijuana states is being considered today, and we need your help!
The Rohrabacher-Hinchey-Farr-McClintock Amendment would stop federal agencies from spending any funds to target individuals acting in compliance with state medical marijuana laws. This would include patients and providers, so long as those providers were following the law within their respective states.
If this passes, providers will no longer have to live in fear that the businesses they worked hard to build and keep in compliance with their state and local laws will be arbitrarily raided and destroyed by federal agents. Patients will no longer be forced to buy inferior medicine from dangerous criminals at the whim of U.S. attorneys. States will finally be free to determine the marijuana policies that work best for the seriously ill among their residents.
We need your help to make this happen. Please follow this link and call your member of Congress TODAY! Tell them that they need to support this amendment and make the federal government stop wasting its time and resources on medical marijuana.