The House of Representatives approved an amendment to a defense spending bill that would protect marijuana businesses operating legally under state, territory, or tribal law from federal interference.
The amendment, passed in a 254-163 vote, would prohibit the Department of Justice (DoJ) from using taxpayer funds to enforce federal marijuana laws in those jurisdictions which have diverged from federal prohibition and established a legal cannabis industry.
The amendment, sponsored by Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), Barbara Lee (D-CA) and Tom McClintock (R-CA), resembles existing measures passed every year since 2014 through appropriations legislation to protect state-legal medical cannabis businesses from DoJ interference. This latest amendment, however, would protect states irrespective of whether the legalized cannabis was for medical or adult-use purposes.
“[W]e must pass this amendment to ensure the federal government does not interfere with state cannabis activities. This modest extension of existing protections, which we have achieved through the appropriations process in the past, is critically important,” Rep. Bluemenauer said prior to the vote, when he also spoke of the need for the House to pass the SAFE Banking Act so state-legal marijuana businesses can access basic financial services.
The amendment was attached to the Department of Defense Appropriations Act of 2021, and approved by all but six Democrats, while 31 Republicans also voted in favor of the measure.
“This is the most significant vote on marijuana policy reform that the House of Representatives has taken this year,” said Justin Strekal of NORML. “The importance of this bipartisan vote cannot be overstated as today; nearly one in four Americans reside in a jurisdiction where the adult use of cannabis is legal under state statute. It is time for Congress to acknowledge this reality and retain these protections in the final spending bill.”
Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-AL) spoke against the amendment on the basis that including it in the final bill would send “the false message to youth that smoking marijuana is healthy.”
“Claims of benefits from smoked or ingested marijuana are very unreliable and generally outright fabrication,” he said. “However, it is an established fact that marijuana use has real health and social harms.”
Blumenauer responded by citing various studies suggesting marijuana’s therapeutic value for a range of chronic conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder and epilepsy, before arguing that marijuana prohibition disproportionately harms people and communities of color.
“The existing policy of prohibition is an abject failure,” Blumenauer said. “This selective enforcement of nonsensical policy has posed huge problems for black Americans.”
Last year, the House voted to protect states with adult-use marijuana laws from federal interference, but the Senate didn’t include the measure in its final appropriations legislation signed into law by the president. The upper chamber has not yet begun reviewing its appropriations bills for 2021 but there is little to indicate the Senate will be any more accommodating to marijuana reform provisions.
Certain cannabis reform advocates argue that rather than tinkering around the edges, the time is right for a full floor vote to end federal marijuana prohibition.
“The next logical step for House Leadership is to bring legislation to the floor to end prohibition and demonstrate to the American people that the era of marijuana criminalization is drawing to a close,” said NORML Political Director Strekal.
The House’s approval of the amendment follows the Democratic National Committee’s (DNC) vote against an amendment to include support for marijuana legalization in the party’s official 2020 election platform. There are also whispers around congress about an impending House vote on a bill to end federal cannabis prohibition – the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act – which would remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act and divert funds towards programs to help individuals and communities harmed by the war on drugs.