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Congress Endangers Critical Medical-Marijuana Protection

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For a few days in early September, marijuana policy reformers fitfully watched as Republican leaders in the House Rules Committee blocked a vote on the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment. The legislation, which is co-sponsored by Reps. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) and Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), has been added to the federal budget in some form since 2014 and protects state-legal medical-marijuana programs from federal interference.

«By blocking our amendment, Committee leadership is putting at risk the millions of patients who rely on medical marijuana for treatment, as well as the clinics and businesses that support them,» Rohrabacher and Blumenauer said in a joint statement on Sept. 6. «If a vote were allowed, our amendment would pass on the House floor, as it has several times before.»

Thirty states and Washington, D.C. have comprehensive medical-marijuana laws, and another 16 have limited CBD-oil laws. That means 46 states could potentially be affected by eliminating the amendment.

Just two days later, however, Congress approved a three-month debt limit deal that will extend the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment through Dec. 8, a victory that was celebrated by pro-cannabis members of Congress. Rohrabacher and Blumenauer, however, called for a more lasting solution: «We need permanent protections for state-legal medical-marijuana programs, as well as adult use. Prohibition is a failed policy resulting in nothing more than wasted resources and lives.”

The blocked Rules Committee vote could signal a more alarming possibility. In May, Attorney General Jeff Sessions sent a letter to Congressional leaders asking them to oppose the amendment. He cited the usual prohibitionist talking points about violent crime, the opioid epidemic and the «significant negative health effects» of smoking marijuana.

«I should not need to remind our chief law enforcement officer nor my fellow Republicans that our system of federalism, also known as states’ rights, was designed to resolve just such a fractious issue,» Rohrabacher wrote in an Washington Post op-ed article on Sept. 5 «Unfortunately, my longtime friend Jeff Sessions, the attorney general, has urged Congress to drop the amendment.»

While the House version of the appropriations bill doesn’t include the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment thanks to the Rules Committee, the Senate version does. It’s still possible that the amendment will make it into the final legislation.

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