In a major setback to the medical marijuana laws, the GOP-led U.S. House of Representatives’ Committee on Rules (House Rules Committee) has rejected several key marijuana amendments from being included in a federal appropriations bill. The committee’s decision, taken late on Wednesday, Sep. 6, 2017, will prevent voting on several amendments which safeguard current and proposed state cannabis laws.
The most noteworthy change will be the bipartisan Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment (previously Rohrabacher-Farr) which prevents the Department of Justice from using its budgetary funds to impede existing state-enacted medical marijuana programs. The amendment, in force since 2014, is scheduled to expire September end. The committee also rejected an amendment, sponsored by Republican Matt Gaetz, which would provide a safe harbor for medical cannabis research in the majority of states, and another which would allow the District of Columbia (D.C.) to employ local funds for regulating and taxing recreational marijuana (legalized by D.C. in 2014). Three banking amendments have been also rejected.
The committee’s move is being seen as another measure by the government and GOP legislators to scuttle any initiative to legalize recreational or medical marijuana at the federal level. The committee’s decision was condemned by amendment sponsors Rep. Dana Rohrabacher and Rep. Earl Blumenauer in a joint statement. They asserted that the “decision goes against the will of the American people” and that it will put at risk “the millions of patients who rely on medical marijuana for treatment, as well as the clinics and businesses that support them.”
Fight for medical marijuana “far from over”
The duo emphasized that the fight to “protect medical marijuana patients is far from over.” In the past instances of voting in the House, the same medical marijuana amendments have been approved overwhelmingly. The Congressmen affirmed that the “marijuana reform movement is large and growing”, and that the “bad decision” by the committee is an outrage to the states and D.C. which have legalized medical marijuana in some form. They vowed that while the House and Senate leadership discusses long-term funding, their fight for maintaining current protections will continue.
In July 2017, the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment was authorized by the Senate Appropriations Committee for inclusion in the larger spending bill, in spite of Attorney General Jeff Sessions asking Congress in May 2017 not to sanction an extension. Although the amendment has been rejected by the House Rules Committee, it does not mean the end of the road. Once the House passes its version, a conference committee reconciles the version with the Senate version. There is still hope as the amendment can be included in the bill which allocates annual federal funding.
Legalization of medical marijuana has received extensive support both from the common people and members of Congress. An April 2017, Quinnipiac University poll indicated overwhelming support for marijuana legalization in the U.S., with 73 percent of voters opposed to the federal government enforcing laws against marijuana in states with legalized medical or recreational use. In addition, 94 percent voters affirmed that adults should be allowed to “legally use marijuana for medical purposes if their doctor prescribes it.”
A statement from Don Murphy, director of conservative outreach for the Marijuana Policy Project, called the move a “slap” in the face of aggrieved patients and their families. He emphasized that, “Unless Congress chooses the Senate budget version, millions of seriously ill patients and the legitimate businesses that provide them with safe access to their medicine will be at risk of prosecution.”
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