A key congressional committee decided that Congress will soon hold a vote on a measure to protect all state and tribal cannabis programs from federal interference.

The House Rules Committee approved a bipartisan amendment, introduced by Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Tom McKlintock (R-CA), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) and Barbara Lee (D-CA), to spending legislation that would ensure these protections in law. The measure would mark a significant expansion of the existing rider provision, renewed annually through the federal budget, that prohibits the Department of Justice (DOJ) from using federal funds to investigate state-legal medical marijuana programs, but not recreational cannabis programs. This form of protection has been in place every year since 2014.

Speaking before the House Rules Committee ahead of the vote, Blumenauer noted the “dramatic increase in public support” for comprehensive cannabis reform and that voters across the country are approving marijuana legalization ballot measures.

“Let’s continue to protect state-legal activities while we move towards full legalization,” he said. “The longer you delay, the worse it is. In the interim, I strongly urge that we enact this amendment to be able to provide some stability.”

This isn’t the first time such an amendment has been proposed in Congress, with such language approved with strong bipartisan support by the House last year and the year before, but they never made it into the final appropriations bill given the Republican’s control of the Senate. With the Democrats now holding a slim majority in the upper chamber, cannabis reform advocates are hopeful the measure could finally pass, especially since eight more states have legalized adult-use marijuana since the last House vote.

The state and tribal cannabis programs protection amendment was one of several marijuana-related measures considered by the Rules Committee with regards to Justice Department funding. Another amendment, directly opposed to the approved marijuana programs protection one, was introduced by Rep. Doug LaMalfa (R-CA). It would remove the current rider protections for state-legal medical cannabis programs, even though his own state has the longest running medical marijuana program in the country.

The House Rules Committee voted through the proposal, meaning the two conflicting measures could face off against one another on the House floor soon. Marijuana reform advocates, however, think the chances of LaMalfa’s amendment securing enough votes to pass are slim, given the increasing support for state-level cannabis reform and the Democrat’s majority in Congress. LaMalfa proposed another cannabis-related amendment to spending legislation concerning the DOJ that would include “marijuana grow sites in the eligible category for [Drug Enforcement Administration] reimbursement of state, units of local government, or tribal governments for expenses incurred to clean-up and safely dispose of substances which may present a danger to public health or the environment found at illegal marijuana grow sites.” That proposal, however, did not advance through the Rules Committee for a House floor vote.

Meanwhile, Rep. Jay Obernolte (R-CA) introduced an amendment, approved by the committee, that would provide the DOJ with $25 million to “support efforts to eliminate illegal marijuana grows in South Eastern California.”

Obernolte said to the committee members that illegal grow operations in parts of California are causing untold environmental damage through the use of prohibited pesticides that find their way into groundwater.

“This is a catastrophe for everyone involved, including the folks who are trying to follow the law and pursue legal marijuana cultivation,” he said.

About the Author: Matt Brooks

Matt is a journalist from San Francisco who has specialized in marijuana policy for more than six years.

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