A congressional committee opened the door to a federal crackdown on medical cannabis businesses by removing a key industry protection from the House budget bill.
The House Rules committee removed the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment from the 2018 spending bill, ruling the amendment “out of order” in a vote held Sept. 6. As a result, congressional representatives will not be able to debate in a full House session whether or not to include the amendment.
The amendment remains on the Senate budget bill, however, meaning the amendment could still be included in the final version of the federal appropriations bill sent to the president for signing.
The Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment has given the cannabis industry a chance to grow without obstruction by federal authorities by forbidding the Justice Department from using federal tax dollars to interfere in the implementation of state medical cannabis laws. The amendment (formerly the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment) has been on every federal budget passed since December 2014.
The decision has drawn ire from many sources, including from the amendment’s namesake sponsors, Congressmen Dana Rohrabacher and Earl Blumenauer, who released a joint statement condemning the ruling.
“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,” the congressmen said. “This decision goes against the will of the American people, who overwhelmingly oppose federal interference with state marijuana laws. These critical protections are supported by a majority of our colleagues on both sides of the aisle. There’s no question: If a vote were allowed, our amendment would pass on the House floor, as it has several times before.”
Several major cannabis industry groups were also outraged by the House Rules committee’s action and released statements harshly criticizing it.
“This vote is a slap in the face of patients, their families, their elected representatives, and the 10th Amendment,” Don Murphy, director of conservative outreach for the advocacy group Marijuana Policy Project, said in a statement.
“When an overwhelming majority of Americans oppose federal interference in state medical marijuana programs, it is unconscionable not to let their Representatives vote on whether to continue this policy,” Murphy said.
Patient and legalization advocacy group Marijuana Majority also condemned the committee’s decision, with Tom Angell, the group’s founder and chairman, going as far as qualifying the maneuvers as “dirty legislative tricks.”
“Opposing seriously ill patients' access to medical cannabis is sick enough, but blocking the people’s representatives from even being able to vote on the matter is just obscene,” Angell said in a statement. “Forty-six states now allow some form of medical marijuana, and polls consistently show that more than 90 percent of voters support the issue, but a small handful of Congressional ‘leaders’ decided behind closed doors to kill this amendment without due consideration. … But they won’t be able to do this without people noticing."
The National Cannabis Industry Association’s executive director, Aaron Smith, called the committee’s move an attempt “to move the country backward” in a statement. But he also noted that since the amendment is still on the Senate Appropriations bill, “Congress still has a chance to protect patients and state-legal cannabis businesses in conference committee.”
“We hope leaders on both sides of the aisle will work together to ensure this widely popular amendment is renewed in this year's spending package," Smith said.