Congress to vote on strong legal marijuana protections before November elections

The U.S. House of Representatives will be voting on a crucial amendment aimed at protecting marijuana legalization laws from federal involvement.

Almost one in four Americans live in a state the adult recreational use of marijuana is legal. Currently, these recreational markets with active dispensaries including Illinois, Massachusetts, and Nevada are not covered under protections put in place by Congress that currently protect states with medical marijuana programs. Soon, a super-important amendment to renew those protections and expand them to cover adult use could be voted on by Congress — some sources say the vote could come as early as September. 

On the dark side, two other, separate amendments are being put forth by another representative that could be devastating to states with recreational programs. If passed, the measures will effectively strip federal funding from states that permit the sale of kid-friendly products or that don’t offer educational programs aimed at reducing marijuana-impaired driving. 

The Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement Act

The Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act was filed by lawmakers in mid-July in conjunction with a wide-ranging bill funding various federal departments in the Fiscal year 2021. 

In 2014 Congress members passed yearly spending bills, including a provision protecting merchants and individuals engaged in state-sanctioned dispensing and usage of medical marijuana from prosecution by the Department of Justice. The amendment says  federal funding may not be utilized to prevent states from “implementing their own state laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession or cultivation of medical marijuana.” 

This amendment would remove the word “medical” from the existing terminology and extend protections to adults and patients who qualify for a license in both recreational and medical industries. This amendment was put forth by Representatives Early Blumenauer (founding member of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus), Tom McClintock, and Eleanor Holmes-Norton. 

In its current form, the spending legislation contains provisions shielding state cannabis laws from Justice Department interference, protects universities from losing funding for cannabis studies and makes allowances for banks to offer services to marijuana businesses without fear of punishment from the Treasury Department.

Reform Supporters of the cannabis protection rider wish to add an expansion.  The protection rider was first enacted in 2014 and has been continuously renewed by Congress on a yearly basis to ensure it covers recreational cannabis laws as well. 

The state protection amendment, filed by Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Tom McClintock (R-CA), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) and Barbara Lee (D-CA), reads as follows:

“None of the funds made available by this Act to the Department of Justice may be used, with respect to any of the States of Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming, or with respect to the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, Guam, Puerto Rico, or the United States Virgin Islands, to prevent any of them from implementing their own laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of marijuana.”

A separate measure was filed for the purpose of shielding marijuana policies enacted by Indian tribes from federal interference by Mr. Blumenauer and Rep. Deb Haaland.

“None of the funds made available by this Act to the Department of Justice may be used to prevent any Indian tribe (as such term is defined in section 4 of the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act (25 U.S.C. 5304)) from enacting or implementing tribal laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of marijuana.”

“It is critical that the full House be provided the opportunity to cast a vote on the amendment, not only because it is a sensible effort but also because it provides an opportunity to demonstrate to House leadership that comprehensive legislation is ready for prime time,” NORML Political Director Just Strekal told Marijuana Moment. “After Blumenauer-McClintock-Norton-Lee passes again, the next logical step is a vote on a cannabis reform bill in 2020.”

In 2019 a move to stop the Justice Department from involvement in state and territory cannabis laws, the House voted 267-165 to approve the amendment. A measure was also passed by the chamber to protect Indian tribes’ marijuana policies via a same day voice vote.

The amendment was not approved by the Senate and the aforementioned provisions didn’t make it into Fiscal Year 2020 spending legislation signed by the president.

Those opposing legalization are using 2020’s appropriations process to air their safety and health concerns around the implications of reform.