^
Keep Westword Free
4

Is Congressional Threat to Medical Pot Biz Protection Real or a "Nothingburger"?

A federal raid of a Denver-area marijuana business circa 2013.
A federal raid of a Denver-area marijuana business circa 2013.
Photo by William Breathes

The most prominent anti-marijuana group in the country is touting the absence of language in a key Congressional funding bill that has protected the medical marijuana industry in Colorado and beyond from federal prosecution in recent years. But a cannabis advocate dismisses the suggestion that this development could soon unleash a law-enforcement blitzkrieg against the MMJ biz.

In the words of Tom Angell, who leads the national organization Marijuana Majority, "This is a gigantic nothingburger."

That's not the way it's being portrayed by Smart Approaches to Marijuana, also known as Project SAM, which launched in Colorado in 2013. In its first press release on the topic, the organization maintains that a "Commerce, Justice, Science bill that funds the Department of Justice...eliminated a provision that has protected the marijuana industry from federal prosecution for violating the Controlled Substances Act."

This line refers to language created by representatives Dana Rohrabacher and Sam Farr, a pair of California Republicans, that bars the Department of Justice from prosecuting anyone following the laws in states that allow medical marijuana. In an April letter to the subcommittee handling the bill (it's accessible below), Rohrabacher and more than thirty fellow members of Congress, including Colorado reps Jared Polis, Ed Perlmutter and Diana DeGette, asked that the language be included in the measure, and SAM says it did appear for a time in the base text. But it's absent from the version released yesterday, June 28.

SAM's Kevin Sabet.
SAM's Kevin Sabet.
Courtesy of Smart Approaches to Marijuana

SAM submitted testimony to the Appropriations Committee arguing against the language, and now that it's out, Kevin Sabet, the group's president, is celebrating in a big way. In one quote sprinkled with dubious assertions, he says, "If I were an investor, I would sell my marijuana stocks short. The marijuana industry has lost in every state in which they were pushing legislation in 2017, the industry's largest lobbying group is losing its bank account, and now they are losing protection that has helped them thrive despite marijuana's illegal status. Although the debate over Rohrbacher-Farr is far from over, the bad news just keeps coming for the pot industry. But it's great news for parents, prevention groups, law enforcement, medical professionals, victims' rights advocates and everyone who cares about putting public health before profits."

I Support
  • Local
  • Community
  • Journalism
  • logo

Support the independent voice of Denver and help keep the future of Westword free.

In the wake of such claims, Rohrabacher and Oregon Congressman Earl Blumenauer issued a press release of their own, maintaining that the language has been added by amendment in previous years, rather than being part of the base bill. According to Blumenauer, "The folks at SAM clearly don’t understand the legislative process. Our amendment has never been in the CJS Subcommittee’s bill. There is no news here. We are exactly where we thought we would be in the legislative process and look forward to amending the underlying bill once again this year to make sure medical marijuana programs, and the patients who rely on them, are protected. Voters in states across the country have acted to legalize medical marijuana. Congress should not act against the will of the people who elected us."

Earlier this morning, Sabet fired back in SAM's second release about the bill. After referencing the April request from Rohrabacher and company, he writes, "Now, like the fox and the sour grapes, they changed their tune once they didn’t get what they wanted. Despite their earlier letter, they issued a press release last night saying they never expected to get this amendment into the base spending bill in the first place. When a politician says, ‘nothing to see here,’ there is usually something to see. The problem for them is, their earlier letter speaks for itself."

Not in Angell's view. He calls the SAM assertions "especially disingenuous, even for Sabet. The medical cannabis protections have never been included in the base bill and have always been added via bipartisan amendments later in the appropriations process. We expect that to be the case this year, too."

Click to read the April letter about including the Rohrabacher-Farr language to protect the marijuana industry from federal prosecution.

Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.

We use cookies to collect and analyze information on site performance and usage, and to enhance and customize content and advertisements. By clicking 'X' or continuing to use the site, you agree to allow cookies to be placed. To find out more, visit our cookies policy and our privacy policy.

 

Join the Westword community and help support independent local journalism in Denver.

 

Join the Westword community and help support independent local journalism in Denver.