Republican Congressman Urges Conservatives to Support Medical Marijuana Ahead of Crucial Budget Rules Vote
On Tuesday after Congress returned from recess, Rep. Dana Rohrbacher published a column in the Washington Post asking his conservative colleagues to support his budget amendment that would protect state-legal medical marijuana patients and providers from federal interference.
Not long ago, a supporter of mine, visiting from California, dropped by my Capitol office. A retired military officer and staunch conservative, he and I spent much of our conversation discussing the Republican agenda.
Finally, I drew a breath and asked him about an issue I feared might divide us: the liberalization of our marijuana laws, specifically medical marijuana reform, on which for years I had been leading the charge. What did he think about that controversial position?
“Dana,” he replied, “there are some things about me you don’t know.” He told me about his three sons, all of whom enlisted after 9/11.
Two of his sons returned from the battlefield whole and healthy. The third, however, came home suffering multiple seizures each day. His prospects were bleak.
His medical care fell under the total guidance of the Department of Veterans Affairs, whose doctors came under federal restraints regarding the treatments they could prescribe. (Among the treatments allowed were opioids.) Nothing worked.
Finally, a sympathetic doctor advised our young hero to see him in his private office, where he could prescribe medication derived from cannabis. The prescription worked. The seizures, for the most part, ceased.
“Dana,” said my friend, “I could hug you right now for what you’ve been doing, unknowingly, for my son.”
What had I been doing? With my Democrat friend Sam Farr, the now-retired California congressman, I wrote an amendment to spending bills that prohibits the federal government from prosecuting medical marijuana cases in states where voters have legalized such treatment. The amendment passed two consecutive years, the second time with a wider margin than the first, and has been extended through continuing resolutions and an omnibus spending bill.
Unfortunately, my longtime friend Jeff Sessions, the attorney general, has urged Congress to drop the amendment, now co-sponsored by Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.). This, despite President Trump’s belief, made clear in his campaign and as president, that states alone should decide medical marijuana policies.
I should not need to remind our chief law enforcement officer nor my fellow Republicans that our system of federalism, also known as states’ rights, was designed to resolve just such a fractious issue. Our party still bears a blemish for wielding the “states’ rights” cudgel against civil rights. If we bury state autonomy in order to deny patients an alternative to opioids, and ominously federalize our police, our hypocrisy will deserve the American people’s contempt.
The amendment must be approved by the House Rules Committee in order to get a vote, where it will likely be approved for the FY 2018 federal budget. If it is not, a conference committee will need to choose the Senate version of the budget later this month. If one of these two options doesn't happen, medical marijuana patients and providers will be open to federal prosecution once again.
We can't let these protections expire. Please contact your lawmakers and ask them to support medical marijuana, and to ask their colleagues on the House Rules Committee to rule the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment "in order."
The Justice Department will continue to be prohibited from interfering in state medical marijuana laws under the federal spending bill passed Thursday in the Senate. The bill has already passed the House, and President Trump has said he will sign it.
The legislation includes a provision that is intended to prevent the department, including the Drug Enforcement Administration, from using funds to arrest or prosecute patients, caregivers, and businesses that are acting in compliance with state medical marijuana laws.
The provision stems from an amendment originally sponsored by Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) and former Rep. Sam Farr (D-CA), which was first approved by the House in May 2014. It was approved again by a larger margin in June 2015, then included in the continuing appropriations packages that have funded the federal government since October 2016.
Unfortunately, the spending package approved Thursday also includes a provision that prevents the District of Columbia from regulating the cultivation and distribution of marijuana for adult use. It was originally introduced by Rep. Andy Harris (R-Maryland) and approved in 2015, after District voters approved a ballot initiative to make possession and cultivation of limited amounts of marijuana legal for adults 21 years of age and older.
MPP's Robert Capecchi released the following statement:
“Congress appears to be growing increasingly comfortable with states adopting their own marijuana policies,” said Robert Capecchi, director of federal policies for the Marijuana Policy Project. “Unfortunately, spending prohibitions like these expire at the end of the fiscal year, so there is still a need for a long-term solution.
“The time is right for Congress to adopt permanent legislation that protects individuals from federal enforcement if they are in compliance with state laws,” Capecchi said. “It is difficult to understand what they’re waiting for. The vast majority of U.S. voters oppose the federal government interfering in state marijuana laws, and there is now near-universal support for legalizing medical marijuana.”
The Justice Department will continue to be prohibited from interfering in state medical marijuana laws under the new federal spending bill unveiled late Tuesday night.
The compromise legislation includes a provision that is intended to prevent the department, including the Drug Enforcement Administration, from using funds to arrest or prosecute patients, caregivers, and businesses that are acting in compliance with state medical marijuana laws. It stems from an amendment sponsored by Reps. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) and Sam Farr (D-CA) that was first approved in the House of Representatives in May 2014 and included in the Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act of 2015 signed by President Obama last December.
In April 2015, a Justice Department spokesman told the Los Angeles Times that the department did not interpret the amendment as affecting cases involving individuals or businesses, but merely “impeding the ability of states to carry out their medical marijuana laws.” In October, a federal judge ruled that interpretation was inaccurate and that the Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment prevents the department from taking action against individuals who are acting in compliance with state laws.
Unfortunately, the new spending plan also includes an amendment, introduced by Rep. Andy Harris (R-Maryland) and approved earlier this year, which prevents the District of Columbia from regulating the cultivation and distribution of marijuana for adult use. District voters approved a ballot initiative in 2014 to make possession and growing of limited amounts of marijuana legal for adults 21 years of age and older.
The bill includes an amendment that prohibits the Department of Justice — which includes the Drug Enforcement Administration — from using funds to interfere with state medical marijuana laws. A similar amendment has been offered seven times in Congress, failing in 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, and 2012. The House finally approved it in May when it was offered by Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) as an amendment to the Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act.
After 11 years of MPP lobbying and attending receptions on Capitol Hill, Congress is finally poised to pass an amendment that would prohibit the U.S. Justice Department — which includes the DEA — from interfering with state-level medical marijuana laws.
The U.S. House rejected the amendment in 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, and 2012. Finally, in May of this year, the House passed the amendment, which was introduced by Congressmen Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) and Sam Farr (D-CA).
Last night, the amendment was included in the annual spending bill that Congress is expected to pass today or tomorrow. It will then be the law through September 30, at which time it would need to be renewed each fall.
Unfortunately, a bad amendment to block local legalization in D.C. was also included in the spending bill. The D.C. mayor and council had been planning to tax and regulate marijuana like alcohol in our nation's capital, which they’ll no longer be allowed to do.
That said, the medical marijuana and decriminalization laws in D.C. will remain in effect.
And it is MPP's opinion that the ballot initiative that 70% of D.C. voters passed on November 4 will be allowed to move forward. This initiative — which removes penalties for adult possession and home cultivation — would take effect in approximately March (unless Congress affirmatively blocks the initiative).
The federal spending bill also prohibits the U.S. Justice Department from interfering with state-level hemp laws.
Finally, marijuana has become a big issue on Capitol Hill, which is a precursor to ending federal prohibition.