Final Budget Bill Fails to Include Protection for Recreational Marijuana

Kate McKee Simmons
Back in February, Cory Gardner and Michael Bennet were among the eighteen senators who urged the Senate Committee on Appropriations to “respect states’ laws regarding the regulation of marijuana.” But this week, those laws didn't get any respect.

In the wake of Attorney General Jeff Sessions' rescinding the Cole Memorandum and other Obama-era protections, the senators' goal was to make sure that states that have legalized recreational marijuana, such as Colorado, would be protected from punitive action by the Department of Justice. “It is our hope that the fiscal year 2018 appropriations will alleviate the turbulence the attorney general’s abrupt decision has caused and that the appropriations will help preserve the strong regulatory frameworks the states have created,” they wrote.

Twenty-nine states, the District of Columbia, and the U.S. territories of Guam and Puerto Rico have passed laws protecting medical marijuana laws. Recreational marijuana is legal and regulated for adults in eight states; adult possession and limited home cultivation are legal in Vermont and the District of Columbia.

But the push to extend Congressional protection for recreational marijuana didn't make the final version of the $1.3 trillion omnibus budget bill, although a prohibition against the Department of Justice using tax dollars to enforce federal laws against state-legal medical cannabis patients and businesses — originally the Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment  —  remains in place.

So far, that is. Congress had a deadline of today, March 23, to pass the 2,243-page budget bill, and managed to do so early this morning. Although President Donald Trump had threatened to veto the bill, he signed it a few hours later. Even so, the fix is only good through September.

So the National Cannabis Industry Association, other industry groups and their allies in Congress are already working to expand those protections to all state-legal cannabis activity — including adult-use sales — in the FY2019 Budget, which is set to be debated this summer.

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Thomas Mitchell has written about all things cannabis for Westword since 2014, covering sports, real estate and general news along the way for publications such as the Arizona Republic, Inman and Fox Sports. He's currently the cannabis editor for westword.com.
Contact: Thomas Mitchell