Congress voted on Monday to allow the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment to remain active and relevant (for the next few weeks at least) until February 8th. At this point, an agreement is expected to be reached about what will be the permanent spending bill for 2018. The Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment is a bill that has been in place since it was first approved in 2014. It was sponsored by U.S. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) and Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), and prevents federal funds from being used to prosecute medical marijuana operators in states where the plant has been legalized for medical use. The law, therefore, allows states to execute and regulate their own medical marijuana laws without federal interference so long as operators adhere to state law. It was approved as a budgetary amendment. This means it must be approved every year by Congress in order to stay in effect.
Why the Protections are More Important Now Than Ever
Trump-appointed Attorney General Jeff Sessions, however, has been a vocal prohibitionist for many years. Since his appointment in office he overturned the Cole Memo and DOJ and Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCen) memos which have been in place to protect state-legal marijuana businesses and the banks that work with them. He has encouraged attorneys to seek the harshest penalties for those who break the law, making marijuana businesses, patients and users alike vulnerable to devastating consequences should state protections be removed.
A Brief Window of Opportunity
Congress now has only a short time (until February 8th) to discuss and approve the final budgetary plans for 2018. Co-sponsor of the budgetary amendment, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), said, “I expect that during this time period, we will be maneuvering on the cannabis issue and the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment. So this is a time for people to make sure that they contact their own member of Congress to make sure that they get behind the amendment for the final bill.”
Up to the House and Senate
As it stands, the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment has been included as part of a Senate finance bill but isn’t present in the House funding proposal. House Rules Committee Chair Peter Sessions (R-TX) did not allow House members to vote on the amendment and now it will be up to House and Senate leaders to decide on whether the bill will be accepted in the 2018 spending bill or not. They will have up until February 8 to make this decision, however they will be able to finalize a decision any time before then.
Currently, across the United States, there are 29 states that have legalized medical marijuana. All of these states will be affected by Congress’ final decision. The latest polls indicate that 83 percent of Americans are in favor of legalizing the plant for medical purposes. There are members of Congress who are listening to the demands of the public and are working towards marijuana reform. Rep. Jacky Rosen (D-NV) along with other members of Congress are working to pass the Respect State Marijuana Laws Act and Reps. Barbara Lee (D-CA) and Don Young (R-AK) have sponsored the Reefer Act. Both work to protect states’ rights to implement their own marijuana laws.