On June 20, House members voted in favor of prohibiting the Department of Justice from using funds to prevent any American state, territory and Washington, D.C., from approving and implementing laws authorizing marijuana use, distribution, possession and cultivation; they did so through an amendment to the Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Appropriations bill.
The amendment — named the Blumenauer-McClintock-Norton amendment after sponsoring representatives Earl Blumenauer (D-Oregon), Tom McClintock (R-California) and Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-Washington, D.C.) — passed 267-165.
“This is the most significant vote on marijuana reform policy that the House of Representatives has ever taken,” Justin Strekal, political director for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, says in a statement. “Today’s action by Congress highlights the growing power of the marijuana law reform movement and the increasing awareness by political leaders that the policy of prohibition and criminalization has failed.”
Unlike the earlier Rohrabacher-Farr and Leahy amendments, which have successfully protected states with medical marijuana programs since 2014, this new amendment would extend protection to states with recreational marijuana, such as Colorado — the first time an arm of Congress has ever approved such language. The day before, on June 19, House members voted in favor of a similar amendment protecting the marijuana laws of Native American tribes.
“The historic nature of this vote cannot be overstated. For the first time, a chamber of Congress has declared that the federal government should defer to state cannabis laws," Cannabis Trade Federation CEO Neal Levine says in a statement. “The bipartisan nature of this vote is a strong signal that there would be majority support in the House for the STATES Act, which could be considered a more permanent version of this amendment. We hope the full House will be given the opportunity to vote on the STATES Act in coming months so that we can move closer to the end of federal cannabis prohibition.”
The STATES Act is a separate bill that would leave marijuana regulation up to the states, similar to the way they regulate alcohol. Originally introduced in the Senate last year by Colorado Republican Senator Cory Gardner and Massachusetts Democrat Senator Elizabeth Warren, the bill has received more support in both chambers of Congress this year, but its chances of passing are still slim.
House committees have also been slowly approving a bill from Colorado Congressman Ed Perlmutter that would legalize banking and financial services for marijuana businesses in 2019. That could actually make it out of the House this year, but the Senate, led by noted marijuana-reform blocker Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, isn't as favorable.
However, the latest round of attempted reform could have a better chance, since it is an amendment attached to a much larger piece of legislation. According to Marijuana Moment's Tom Angel, it will likely move to the Senate Appropriations Committee, which has been open to protecting state-legal medical marijuana programs in the past — but recreational marijuana is a different question.