Senate Appropriations Committee Votes to Keep Medical Marijuana Protections

The cannabis industry has reason to praise the Senate Appropriations Committee for the second week in a row. Last week, the Committee voted to include the Industrial Hemp Water Rights Act in the 2018 Energy and Water Development appropriations bill, which will allow farmers to grow hemp in states where it is legal even if they receive water from federal reserves.

Then today, July 27, the committee voted to include the Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment in the 2018 Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies (CJS) appropriations bill; the provision would prevent the Department of Justice from using any federal money to undermine or prevent states from "implementing a law that authorizes the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana.”

"It's great to see the members of the Senate Appropriations Committee stand up for medical cannabis patients, the responsible businesses that serve them, and the states that have worked hard to create safe, regulated programs," said Aaron Smith, the director and co-founder of the National Cannabis Industry Association, the Denver-based cannabis trade and advocacy organization that helped garner support for the amendment, in a statement released after the committee's action.

Taylor West, the deputy director of NCIA, expands on that statement: "Over the years, we have developed strong relationships with senators on both sides of the aisle, so that we can have candid conversations about why an amendment like this is important and move past alarmist narratives." She notes that while the committee is currently Republican-led, there was such overwhelming support for the amendment that only a voice vote was taken.

The amendment has been included in the federal budget every year since 2014. This year, however, its existence came into question after Attorney General Jeff Sessions wrote a letter to members of Congress urging them not to renew the amendment, arguing that it stymied the Justice Department's ability to enforce the Controlled Substances Act.

Though Sessions's request was spurned at this stage, the budget now moves to the full Senate. If approved there, it will meet up with the House version of the budget before the end of September. The process is often convoluted and can have any number of outcomes, like an omnibus bill that shoves all appropriations packages into one, so West notes, "It is very important that a marker got laid down by the Senate to maintain this provision."

"There are still many steps to go before a new budget is finalized," noted Smith. "But this is an important indicator that our allies in Congress are standing up for us, even in the face of DOJ opposition."
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Gabe Fine is a fifth-generation Colorado native and a student at Colorado College. He’s written about everything from the environment to housing justice to the postal service as an editorial intern for Westword.
Contact: Gabe Fine