News: House Passes Budget with Medical Cannabis Protection Amendment

This piece was originally published on Americans for Safe Access website. Click here to view the article there.

House Passes Budget with Medical Cannabis Protection Amendment

Rohrabacher-Blumenauer Amendment will Protect Patients from AG Sessions until September

Washington, D.C. — Today, after months of debate and continuing resolutions, the House of Representatives passed its Appropriations package for the fiscal year of 2018. Unlike previous short term measures, this bill will fully fund the government through September 30, 2018. At over 2,200 pages the bill is a massive combination of funding outlays and policy. Due to the hard work of advocates the bill includes the text of the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment.

The amendment, which has appeared in previous versions of the annual appropriations bill protects medical cannabis patients and programs from federal interference by the Department of Justice. Due to the recession of the Cole, Ogden, and other memos by Attorney General Sessions, this amendment is the only thing that prevents large-scale federal raids and prosecutions against businesses and individuals complying with state laws. The full text of the amendment is below:

SEC. 538. None of the funds made available under this Act to the Department of Justice may be used, with respect to any of the States of Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming, or with respect to the District of Columbia, Guam, or Puerto Rico, to prevent any of them from implementing their own laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions lobbied Congress to oppose the re-passage of the amendment. In a letter sent in May 2017, he told Congress: “I believe it would be unwise for Congress to restrict the discretion of the Department to fund particular prosecutions, particularly in the midst of an historic drug epidemic and potentially long-term uptick in violent crime.” Sessions has been a vocal adversary of medical cannabis. Patient advocates fear that without the protections granted by the CJS Medical Marijuana Amendment, Session would be able to shut down medical cannabis programs and the patients they serve.

“The inclusion of the CJS Amendment in the House budget shows that Congress knows it must protect medical cannabis patients from AG Sessions and his Department of Justice. We are extremely grateful to the sponsors, Congressman Rohrabacher and Congressman Blumenauer, and the other members that showed leadership on the issue.” said Steph Sherer, Executive Director for Americans for Safe Access. “Now we hope the Senate will feel the same. We are one step closer to knowing patients will now be protected for another year while we work on passing comprehensive legislation like the CARERS ACT.

Support for the re-passage of the amendment was strong and diverse. In November 2017, 66 members of the House signed on to a letter to Congressional Leadership that expressed the desire to maintain protections for state medical cannabis programs. The letter was signed by 28 Republicans and 38 Democrats.

The bill will now be sent to the Senate and will be considered under a closed rule, meaning that the time of debate and ability to amend the bill will be limited. While a government shutdown remains possible over other policy provisions in the bill, it is incredibly encouraging to see the provisions of this amendment in the original text of the bill.

The bill also includes several provisions protecting industrial hemp, and a significant number of provisions related to combating the opioid crisis.

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