The House Appropriations Committee voted Thursday to continue blocking the Justice Department from interfering in state medical marijuana laws.
On a voice vote, the committee approved an amendment offered by Rep. David Joyce (R-OH) to the base FY2019 Commerce, Justice, Science (CJS) Appropriations bill, prohibiting the Justice Department from using funds to interfere in the implementation of state laws that allow the cultivation, distribution, and use of marijuana for medical purposes. The bill will now be considered by the full House.
Such a provision has been in effect since 2014, but this is the first time it has been added to the base CJS Appropriations bill in committee. In previous years, the measure, which was known as the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment (and subsequently the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment), was added to the bill as a floor amendment, but last year Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX) blocked it from receiving a floor vote.
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.
Videos are now available of the town hall forum MPP hosted Sunday in Portland, Ore., where U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR3) and MPP director of government relations Steve Fox discussed the benefits of ending marijuana prohibition and how it can be done in Oregon and in Congress. A great article about the event was featured on the front page of the state’s largest newspaper, the Oregonian.
The videos of Rep. Bluemenauer and Steve Fox are below courtesy of the Russ Bellville Show, and a full rundown on the event can be found after the jump.
U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer:
Steve Fox of MPP:
November 8, 2016, may seem like calendars away, but in the world of lobbying and ballot initiatives, it’s right around the corner. Last Sunday, January 27, U.S. Rep. Blumenauer (D-OR3) joined MPP’s Steve Fox in Portland, Oregon for a town hall forum on legalizing marijuana. Unlike Washington and Colorado, Oregon wasn’t a scene of celebration during election night 2012; Measure 80, which sought to repeal the state’s marijuana prohibition and replace it with a system of taxation and regulation, was defeated 53% to 47%.
No one said the path to regulation would be easy. Rather than sulking and dreaming about what could have been, Steve and Rep. Blumenauer used their time to advise Oregonians on what they could do now to ensure that the next time a reform initiative makes its way on to Oregon’s ballot, it’s met with sweeping approval.
Rep. Blumenauer opened the meeting by discussing his growing involvement in the fight to end prohibition. It began with a two-plant legalization bill in 1972. A 61-year-old Republican hog farmer from eastern Oregon named Stafford Hansell came onto the floor of the state legislature and gave a clean, systematic comparison of marijuana of other substances, including alcohol and tobacco. By the end of Mr. Hansell’s speech, Rep. Blumenauer decided that not only was the (defeated) bill worthy of his support, the entire issue of marijuana reform was a cause he should advocate. He left the assembly concluding, “Oregonians should be allowed this choice.”
When promoting reform, Rep. Blumenauer refers to the model “directly analogous” to marijuana-related policy: alcohol. “Prohibition, depending on your point of view, was either a failure or a disaster…The federal government and the states, the political system, and civic society worked out a system where the federal government would reflect individual states decisions.” It is a model, Rep. Blumenauer concluded, that makes sense for the federal government to look at going forward.
Steve followed Rep. Blumenauer’s question-and-answer session by addressing what lessons voters in Oregon could take away from Colorado. Success was predicated on cooperation, education, timing, drafting, organizing, and advertising, six categories those hoping to replicate Colorado’s victory in the Beaver State could easily incorporate into their campaign.
In 2012 there were multiple pro-reform initiatives put forward in Oregon, resulting in a division of money that, if merged, could have been used more efficiently. “You need to move forward together,” Steve told attendees. He also suggested that Oregonians form a 2016 roundtable so that everyone who wants to be part of this effort can “share their voice.”
Education, Steve believes “changed the dynamic” in Colorado. In 2005, MPP embarked on a public education campaign fully dedicated to the fact that marijuana is safer than alcohol. The SAFER campaign combated the old and tired fear tactics oppositional groups mechanically to dismiss the idea of marijuana reform. Getting the message “marijuana is safer than alcohol” out to the public so early and so often made all the difference when it came time to vote.
The issue of timing was particularly touchy for some in the room. Years of experience have taught MPP that presidential election years make all the difference. Presidential elections give a seven to eight point bump, which can – and often do – make or break an initiative. Some attendees expressed their desire to push forward in 2014, seizing the momentum of 2012; however, Steve reminded the crowd, “You don’t know what the landscape will look like in 2014…It’s a roll of the dice.” If the 2014 initiative failed, the money put into that campaign would ultimately affect the quality of resources sponsors could put into 2016.
Drafting is another collaborative process. It requires compromise and listening to the opinions of various communities. It is not a one size fits all approach; each state needs to examine their voting bodies and decide whether or not sponsors should choose the statutory or constitutional initiative process.
In regards to organizing, it’s all about utilizing time. “Start now, find the people who are on your side,” and add their voices (and vote) to your campaign. At the grass-roots level, engage individuals across the state; build a strong emailing list; and, talk to friends and family – 12% of Colorado voters (1/8) polled post-election stated they heard positive things about the initiative from either relatives or friends.
Lastly, Steve spoke about advertising. It’s a two-part process. Early on, start with education. Inform voters about the CDC’s take on alcohol and tobacco, and let them know what doctors across the country are saying about marijuana. During the final months of a campaign, focus should be placed on the traditional argument, (i.e., crime and money). La enforcement agencies should direct their attention to combating serious crime tax revenue should benefit the state not cartels.