Dear Pot Lawyer,
I saw some things in my Twitter feed about this but didn’t fully grasp what was going on—can you explain the bad news last week from Congress on medical cannabis?
Yes. On Wednesday, September 6—shortly after President Trump weirdly agreed to Democrats’ demand for a three-month extension on the debt ceiling—the House Rules Committee blocked voting on a critical weed rider that would protect state medical cannabis programs. That rider is known as the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment (and was formerly known as the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment, before Oregon representative Earl Blumenauer became a co-sponsor), and it would have attached to the fiscal year 2018 spending bill. Currently, the same rider prevents Jeff Sessions and the US Department of Justice (DOJ) from interfering with state medical cannabis laws. Sessions seems keen on messing with those laws, so the committee decision has people kind of nervous.
The decision also has people frustrated, and for good reason: If the amendment were put to a vote, it would pass by a large, bipartisan margin, just like it did a few years back. Heck, in 2015 a measure to protect both medical and recreational weed programs missed by just nine votes. That one would probably pass today, too. However, due to parliamentary nonsense, Congress cannot vote to do what Congress wants to do.
The current weed protection rider expires September 30. Trump’s weird gambit will likely extend things until December 15, at which point weed-legal states may twist in the wind even more than usual. How many states, you ask? 46! As of today, there are 46 states that allow for some form of medical or CBD-specific cannabis use, and 29 with formal programs, like in Oregon. The public is on board with this: Recent polling shows 88 percent of Americans favor allowing doctors to prescribe at least small amounts of cannabis to treat serious illnesses.
Because public support for medical pot is so high, Sessions and the DOJ would probably have a tough slog attempting to rein in all of the state medical cannabis programs—even if those programs fall into unprotected status. For what it’s worth, the DOJ has not yet taken enforcement action against any of the non-medical cannabis programs, either, despite the fact that those programs have lacked Congressional protection since inception.
Ultimately, making predictions about what might happen with the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer Amendment—or any potential actions by the DOJ—can be fun, but it may not be time well spent. No one really knows what’s going to happen, and that has been the status quo for medical cannabis operators since 1996, when California passed its landmark Proposition 215. Back then, there were no weed protection riders being bandied about Congress for suffocation by the House Rules Committee, but the industry persisted. So light one up for Rohrabacher-Blumenauer. It may be back or it may not, but state-sanctioned medical cannabis is here to stay.
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