The U.S. House of Representatives voted on Thursday to approve an amendment to a defense spending bill that prohibits the federal government from spending money on investigating and prosecuting cannabis activities that are legal under state or tribal law. The wide-ranging amendment, proposed by Democratic Rep. Earl Blumenauer of Oregon, is similar to spending restrictions placed on federal agencies to protect legal cannabis that have been passed each year since 2014.
“This is the most significant vote on marijuana policy reform that the House of Representatives has taken this year,” Justin Strekal, the political director for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) said in a press release. “The importance of this bipartisan vote cannot be overstated as today; nearly one in four Americans reside in a jurisdiction where the adult use of cannabis is legal under state statute. It is time for Congress to acknowledge this reality and retain these protections in the final spending bill.”
“The next logical step for House Leadership is to bring legislation to the floor to end prohibition and demonstrate to the American people that the era of marijuana criminalization is drawing to a close,” Strekal added.
The amendment was attached to a must-pass spending bill, the Department of Defense Appropriations Act of 2021 (H.R. 7617), and approved in the House by a voice vote on Thursday. Under the amendment’s provisions, taxpayer dollars may not be used to enforce federal marijuana laws for activities that are legal under state, tribal, or territorial laws. The prohibition on enforcement would apply to both medical marijuana operations and those related to cannabis for use by adults.
Cannabis Industry Applauds Amendment
Dr. Stuart Titus, the CEO of Medical Marijuana, Inc., applauded the action by the House to protect state-legal cannabis operations in an email to High Times.
“We are very gratified to see Congress continuing to support anti-funding measures so that the DEA will not be able to touch state-legal cannabis operations. If this country wants to label cannabis as an essential business, Congress needs to treat it as one and further act and re-schedule or de-schedule it as a controlled substance,” Titus said, referring to the decision in many states to keep cannabis dispensaries open during mandatory shutdowns of nonessential workplaces. “Millions of Americans count on cannabis for health, wellness, and improvements in quality of life.”
Josh Swider, the CEO of Infinite Chemical Analysis Labs in California, explained how seizures of cannabis samples at a U.S. Customs and Border Patrol checkpoint (which is actually about 20 miles from the border with Mexico) have negatively impacted his business.
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“For the past few months, we’ve had to halt business in Imperial County due to tensions between state and federal regulations,” Swider said. “With the inability to transport legal cannabis samples across state highway checkpoints, our clients in this region were unable to have their products analyzed for consumer safety required to get their products to market.”
“The passing of this measure would be a huge step in the federal government recognizing cannabis as a legal business and would allow licensed cannabis operators in federally-restricted regions, like Imperial Valley, the opportunity to flourish in this industry,” he added.
Instead of covering the same legislative ground year after year, Titus believes that it is time for a permanent federal solution for cannabis, noting that legal sales indicate strong support for sweeping change in U.S. marijuana policy.
“The cannabis industry is demanding reform and it remains a bit antiquated that Congress still has to pass DEA defunding bills annually,” he said. “We should be urgently fighting to change this paradigm because cannabis sales are up this year compared to 2019, which is impressive considering we’re facing a global pandemic.”
After the amendment was passed by a voice vote, Republican Rep. Robert Aderholt of Alabama, who is opposed to the measure, called for a roll-call vote to finalize its approval. The roll-call vote came late Thursday, with the House voting to approve the amendment by a margin of 254 to 163.