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New Federal Spending Bill Protects Medical Marijuana Businesses

By Roger Malespin (photo istock.com/kchungtw)

In a move that comes and great news for cannabis businesses and supporters of legalization, a bipartisan group of lawmakers have ensured that cannabis businesses that operate in states where medical and/or recreational use is legal will continue to be protected from federal charges. 
It is a continuation of the policy enacted by the Obama administration in 2014, but has recently been under fire from current attorney general Jeff Sessions. 

62 lawmakers wrote in a letter to House appropriations leaders earlier this month, "We believe that the consistent, bipartisan support for such protections against federal enforcement, combined with the fact that similar language has been in place since December 2014, makes a strong case for including similar language in your base FY 2019 appropriations bill.”

Sessions rescinded the 2014 policy in January, raising alarms about the progress made toward full legalization being rolled back, but he recently softened his tone on enforcement at the state level. The focus of the provision is the language of the previous federal court ruling, which contains ambiguities on whether it applies to certain states.

"We respectfully request that you include language barring the Department of Justice from prosecuting those who comply with their state’s medical marijuana laws," the lawmakers, led by Reps. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) and Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), wrote in a letter to the House Appropriations subcommittee. 

The language is known as the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer Amendment (RBA), which in effect bars the federal government from spending any money on prosecuting medical marijuana cases in 46 states. With this new provision, the RBA would still be safe even in the event of the omnibus deal not reaching final passage.

There are several ways this is a win for the industry. First, it shows continued bipartisan support in very divisive times for the will of the American people to continue with full federal legalization. Additionally, Sessions’ fiery rhetoric and symbolic grandstanding has only strengthened the resolve of those lawmakers, and even gained more support for the RBA over time. The number of states that allow some form on legal marijuana has more than doubled  since 2015.

The fact that Sessions, who has repeatedly espoused his want to repeal any state level marijuana legalization whatsoever but has not been able to gain sufficient support for his extreme views to put them to use, tells business owners that they have the support of House lawmakers. 

However, Rep. Blumenauer feels this is not as big a cause for celebration as some others. “While I’m glad that our medical marijuana protections are included, there is nothing to celebrate since Congress only maintained the status quo. These protections have been law since 2014. This matter should be settled once and for all,” Blumenauer said. 

He is right - vigilance is key, but we should still be reassured that a republican dominated congress is protecting the cannabis industry, which is worth already billions and projected to grow at an extremely high rate.